Sep 26, 2014 8:43 AM

NY suit accuses Indian PM of role in 2002 violence

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) A human rights group has sued Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of his first visit to the United States on Friday, alleging he was complicit in sectarian violence in his country in 2002.

The American Justice Center filed the lawsuit Thursday in Manhattan federal court on behalf of two unnamed survivors of the violence in the state of Gujarat.

The plaintiffs are seeking monetary and punitive damages and a judgment that Modi's conduct amounted to genocide when he was chief minister of Gujarat.

Modi was elected prime minister in May. He was scheduled to arrive in New York on Friday with a welcome normally reserved for rock stars a sold-out appearance at Madison Square Garden.

Modi's five-day trip is tightly packed: He will be meeting President Barack Obama and a slew of top American officials, addressing the U.N. General Assembly, interacting with the heads of major U.S. companies and influential Indian-Americans. He is also scheduled to meet privately with Mayor Bill de Blasio later Friday.

There was no immediate comment from Indian government officials, many of whom were traveling with Modi.

Modi has denied any role in the violence, and India's Supreme Court said there was no case to bring against him. But suspicions were enough for the United States to refuse him a visa in 2005. As it became clear that Modi would become prime minister, however, the U.S. made it clear that there would be no issue with travel to the United States.

Obama was among the first Western leaders to call and congratulate Modi when his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party swept into power in May.

Still, Modi's critics worry the ascendance of his Hindu nationalist party could worsen sectarian tensions with India's minority 138 million Muslims.

Although he won the election decisively on promises of economic growth, Modi remains a divisive figure in the country of 1.2 billion people in large part because of the Gujarat riots.

Allegations that he was complicit in devastating religious riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002 have haunted him for years.

As chief minister of Gujarat state, he was in command in 2002 when Hindu mobs rampaged through Muslim neighborhoods, towns and villages. More than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed. It was some of the worst religious violence India has seen since its independence from Britain in 1947.

The riots erupted after a fire killed 60 passengers on a train packed with Hindu pilgrims.


Associated Press writer Elizabeth A. Kennedy contributed to this report from New Delhi.


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