NEW DELHI  - An investigation team appointed by India’s Supreme Court has found no evidence against Gujarat’s chief minister over deadly anti-Muslim riots in the state a decade ago, a court said Tuesday.
Narendra Modi has been accused by rights groups of having turned a blind eye to the violence that swept the state in 2002 claiming as many as 2,000 lives, and of failing to bring to justice the perpetrators of the killings.
“According to the Special Investigation Team, no offence has been established against” Modi or any of the 57 others listed in the complaint, the magisterial court said, reported by the Press Trust of India.
The announcement was a boost for Modi, a prominent member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and seen as a potential candidate to be India’s prime minister in the 2014 general elections.
The complaint had been filed by Zakia Jafri, widow of a former Congress Muslim lawmaker, Eshan Jafri, who was burnt to death along with 68 other people by a mob in a housing colony in Gujarat.
Zakia Jafri had filed a complaint against Modi, his ministerial colleagues, top police officials and members of the BJP, accusing them of conspiracy in the riots and the Supreme Court ordered an inquiry into the allegations.
Modi’s lawyer called the allegations against his client “absurd.” The decision by the Special Investigation Team comes as Modi is set to run for a fourth term in office in elections in the western state, known as one of India’s most industrialised, due to be held later this year. The decision came after an Indian court convicted 23 people on Monday over the massacre of nearly two dozen Muslims during the riots in Gujarat state.
Some 31 Muslims were found guilty last year on murder and conspiracy charges for the train attack in which 59 Hindu devotees were killed that sparked the anti-Muslim riots.
Hindu mobs seeking revenge rampaged through Muslim neighbourhoods in several cities across Gujarat during three days of bloodshed that witnessed some of India’s worst religious violence since independence from Britain in 1947.
Modi got another boost last year when a US Congressional research paper hailed his governance track record and called him the “likely” prime ministerial candidate for the BJP in the 2014 national elections.
Modi has been lauded for his pro-business approach, strong governance and intolerance of corruption, but criticised for his handling of the 2002 unrest.
The 61-year-old politician, whose stress on India’s traditional Hindu identity is at odds with the ruling federal Congress party’s secular credo, has always denied accusations he abetted the riots.
Modi’s reputation as Gujarat’s “Mr Clean” has raised his standing among many Indians weary of graft as the Congress national government has become mired in billion-dollar scandals.
Sushma Swaraj, leader of the BJP in the lower house of parliament, hailed the findings of the investigation team as a “big relief for us.”
“Ten years of the vilification campaign (against Modi) must stop,” Swaraj said on the social networking site Twitter.