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`U.S. raised Gujarat riots with BJP-led Government'

By Sridhar Krishnaswami

WASHINGTON, SEPT. 15. The United States had raised the issue of the Gujarat riots with the BJP-led Government in India when it was in power and if "action" was not taken it was because the `pogroms' "were not carried out by the Central Government; they were carried out by mobs," says the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, John Hanford.

Mr. Hanford was at a press briefing at the State Department in the context of the Sixth Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.

Rise in attacks

"... we have worked very hard on problems such as the Gujarat riots and met repeatedly with officials from the Government of India on this as well as other situations where Hindus have been attacked or Christians or others. There's certainly a rise in cases of attacks on Hindus and other minority religions, " Mr. Hanford remarked, when asked why the BJP was being blamed now for the goings-on in Gujarat during 2002 and not punished when it was in power and why the killings of hundreds of Hindus in Kashmir in the name of religion had not been mentioned.

"One issue is looking at the involvement of the Central Government and my best judgement as to why this designation did not occur over that six-year period is that in many cases the pogroms were not being carried out by the Central Government. The Government abhorred this and they were assuring our Government as well as others that action would be taken to address this, and we've seen this transpire. Now justice moves very slowly, often, in India," Mr. Hanford said.

"... the pogroms in Gujarat, for example, were not carried out by the Central Government; they were carried out by mobs. And, it's true that they appear to have been aided by State or local government officials and the police did not respond in the way that would appear normal. These attacks were obviously coordinated," he added.

"... we don't believe that the Central Government even under the BJP Government was involved in inciting those riots. It's well known that prominent officials of that Government held to a very vocal position on Hindu fundamentalism which conveyed an intolerance for religious minorities. The new Government is determined to go a different route and to return India to a position that is more secular and has respect for all religious faiths. And we applaud that," Mr. Hanford said.

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