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Vajpayee admits mistake over Gujarat

People have gathered to protest against the riots, which have killed more than 900 people since they started in February
People have gathered to protest against the riots, which have killed more than 900 people since they started in February  

From Kasra Naji

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- India's government has survived a censure vote in parliament over its failure to stop the worst violence to hit the country in a decade in the western state of Gujarat.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's ruling coalition defended its handling of the riots in Gujarat, which have killed more than 900 people, mostly Muslims, since fighting started in February.

But the country's leader did tell parliament it was a mistake not to anticipate how bad the religious clashes would become and said he should have tried harder to stop the violence.

The violence, sparked when a Muslim mob torched a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, broke out again in Gujarat's main city of Ahmedabad on Tuesday night. Just hours before the debate, three more people were killed in Gujarat, officials said.

The crucial debate over the government's handling of the carnage against Muslims ended at four in the morning, more than sixteen hours after it had started.

CNN's Suhasini Haidar reports Muslims in the Western Indian state of Gujarat are being forced to leave their homes fearing attack from Hindus

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The marathon censure vote, which was intense and at times emotional, reflected fears that the bloodbath that has hit Gujarat over recent months could engulf the whole country.

Vajpayee is accused of doing nothing, while critics say the chief minister of Gujarat -- a member of the ruling Hindu Nationalist party, the BJP -- used state machinery to fan the flames of violence against Muslims.

As recently as Monday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said Gujarat state officials "were directly involved in the killings of hundreds of Muslims since February 27 and are now engineering a massive cover-up of the state's role in the violence."

New Delhi anger

As the debate got underway, a different sort of anger broke out on the streets of the capital New Delhi.

More than a thousand people marched in protest, accusing the government of complicity in the Gujarat bloodbath, and demanding that the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modhi, be sacked.

In parliament, the leader of the opposition, Sonia Ghandi, led the attack

"Bring the guilty to book immediately quickly ... restore law and order firmly ... ensure that full relief and rehabilitation measures are extended to all affected families without delay," she said.

In a bid to pave over the cracks, the prime minister announced $30 million of government aid to help 120,000 people, mostly Muslims, who have lost their homes in two months of violence.

Indian police officers patrol in the Kalupur neighborhood of Ahmedabad
Indian police officers patrol in the Kalupur neighborhood of Ahmedabad  

The opposition's censure motion, which said the government has failed to ensure the security of Muslims in Gujarat, was finally defeated -- with the coalition winning the vote 276-182, with eight abstentions -- leaving the government with a comfortable majority.

But analysts say the damage has been done to the prime minister -- a figure of moral authority -- who has been accused of turning a blind eye to an orchestrated campaign of attacks against Muslims.

But the debate may galvanize his government to do more to stop the violence against Muslims in Gujarat.

The BJP rose from obscurity in the 1980s on a wave of Hindu revivalism in the mainly Hindu but officially secular nation. But it was forced to moderate its stand to win over secular allies and form a ruling coalition in 1999.

After a series of recent setbacks, including an electoral drubbing in a state poll in its Hindi heartland, the party has shifted to the right, sending jitters through the coalition.




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