Andrew Buncombe: Gujarat's bloody recent history of sectarian strife

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The Independent Online

For an insight into the communal division that rips at Ahmedabad's seams, one can do no better than ask for directions to the Bombay Hotel.

It is not a hotel and it has no regular electricity or running water. Rather, it is a wretched shanty town on the edge of the city, home to at least 8,000 Muslim families who have nowhere else to go. Most have been here since the 2002 violence – for some reason the three months of sometimes-organised killings are often referred to as "riots" – that left between 1,000 and 2,000 people dead. The vast majority were Muslims.

The immediate trigger for the violence was a burning train filled with Hindu pilgrims in which 60 people perished. Some blamed the fire on a group of Muslims, though at least one government inquiry has said an accident on the train's cooking stove was more likely the cause of the blaze. In a brutal retaliation, Hindu mobs descended on Muslim areas in Ahmedabad and other cities.

Today, the Muslims of Ahmedabad say they are persecuted and discriminated against and have nowhere to go but the supposedly temporary refugee camps. Many of those living in the Bombay Hotel say they cannot return to their old districts.

In the aftermath of the violence, Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP state government were accused of doing too little to stop the killing. Since then, the allegations have become even more serious, and last year an undercover investigation by an Indian news magazine led to claims that he had personally given the violence the green light. Mr Modi and his party have denied that but he has continued to stir up communal passions.

Shockingly, the allegations did him no political damage. Indeed, analysts believe they may have boosted his support among some voters. Mr Modi was re-elected to a third term as chief minister of Gujarat in December and there has been talk that he could soon step up to the national stage. Ahmedabad, once known as the Manchester of India because of its textile mills, continues to attract praise for its booming economy. The state's economic growth has stood at more than 10 per cent over the past five years.