Shaking Off the Horror of the Past in India

574px-Modi-WEFManu Joseph in the NYT (image from Wikimedia Commons):

Mr. [Narendra] Modi’s rise is a consequence of two horrific events, which occurred in Gujarat months after he was appointed chief minister of the state.

On Feb. 27, 2002, almost 60 people, most of them Hindu pilgrims, were burned alive in a train compartment near the town of Godhra. Various investigations into the event came up with conflicting conclusions as if to suit every ideology and associated theories.

Secular Indians, whom Mr. Modi sometimes refers to as “pseudo-secularists,” wanted to believe a report that determined that the fire was a tragic accident. Others wanted to believe the reports that said a Muslim mob had planned the attack and set the train on fire, a line that Mr. Modi took in the aftermath of the incident. Last year, a special court convicted several people of murder and sentenced them to death or to life in prison.

In the days that followed the burning of the coach, riots broke out in Gujarat that left hundreds dead, most of them Muslims. As the massacre continued, journalists, activists and several senior police officers in Gujarat who spoke to the news media on the condition of anonymity said that Mr. Modi’s government was complicit in the violence. Mr. Modi, for his part, asserted that the violence was “a spontaneous reaction of the Hindus.”

While reporting from Gujarat on the aftermath of the riots, I stumbled upon the fact that a senior minister in Mr. Modi’s cabinet, Haren Pandya, had testified in a shroud of secrecy before a tribunal that was investigating the cause of the riots. When I approached Mr. Pandya about this, he told me that he had told the tribunal that on the night of Feb. 27, Mr. Modi held a meeting with senior police officers and bureaucrats during which he is alleged to have instructed the police to allow the mobs to vent their anger on Muslims. It is a charge that Mr. Modi has consistently denied.