April 1 (Bloomberg) -- India’s front-running prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi doesn’t need to apologize for failing to quell 2002 anti-Muslim riots in his state because courts have cleared him, a senior party leader said.
Religious minorities will also vote for Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in elections starting this month, helping it form a government, said Arun Jaitley, the opposition party’s leader in the upper house of parliament. The next administration must focus on reversing an economic slowdown and creating a new investment cycle, Jaitley added.
“Those asking for an apology wanted the apology to be an act of confession,” Jaitley, who was also law minister in the previous BJP-led government, said at a news conference in New Delhi yesterday. “No Indian politician has had to face that kind of both public and judicial scrutiny.”
Modi’s reputation for failing to support the Muslim minority stems from the riots in Gujarat, the state he has run since 2001. After Muslims set fire to a train, killing Hindu activists, ensuing riots killed about 1,100 people, mostly Muslims, according to a government report by Justice G.T. Nanavati and Justice Akshay Mehta.
Human rights groups including the Concerned Citizens Tribunal say Modi failed to control the mob. Modi denies wrongdoing and a panel appointed by India’s Supreme Court in 2012 found no evidence that his decisions prevented victims from receiving help.
“There were a large number of series of inquiries he had to face,” Jaitley said, referring to Modi. “They were court-supervised and finally the inquiries found there was not a shred of evidence against him.”
While the BJP is projecting Modi as the leader who will push economic growth, Rahul Gandhi’s Congress party is reminding the electorate of the 2002 violence, said Subrata Mukherjee, a former political science professor in New Delhi. The party that sways voter sentiment will be the one to lead India’s next government, he said.
“In the educated mind, the 2002 Gujarat riots are history, but it is still politically divisive and is shaping voters’ leanings,” said Mukherjee. “Modi is still persona non grata to Muslims and the Congress will continue to use this issue, so the ramifications of the Gujarat riots are still relevant.”
The immediate challenge for the new government will be to kick-start investments, curb inflation and put the economy back on a high growth path, Jaitley said. The BJP will continue policies that improve the lot of the poor, he added.
The Congress-led government’s decade-long rule may come to an end as voters punish it for the slowest growth in a decade and consumer inflation that has averaged more than 9 percent for the past two years. Support for the opposition has also grown after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s administration dealt with graft allegations and departure of allies.
The BJP will win most seats in elections running April 7 to May 12, while falling short of a majority, according to opinion polls such as those published by Nielsen and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The results of the vote will be announced May 16.
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