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India's BJP Rejects Gujarat Minister's Resignation - 2002-04-15

In India, the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party is under attack for failing to remove the chief minister of Gujarat, the western state that has been rocked by recent religious violence. A key ally of the fragile coalition is angry with the government for its handling of communal riots in the state.

Parliament was adjourned Monday after opposition parties and the BJP's largest ally, the Telugu Desam Party, stalled the house, demanding the ouster of Gujarat's chief minister, Narendra Modi.

During a party conclave over the weekend, the BJP rejected an offer by Mr. Modi to resign, instead asking him to hold early elections in Gujarat.

The controversy has raised an outcry from some political and human rights groups, which say the government's first priority must be to restore order in Gujarat.

More than 800 people, mostly Muslims, have died in Hindu-Muslim rioting in Gujarat in the last six weeks. Sporadic violence continues. The state's BJP administration, led by Mr. Modi, has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to prevent Hindu mobs from killing Muslims.

The political spotlight is now turning to criticism from the government's own allies.

A spokesman for the Telugu Desam Party, Yerran Naidu, says it is pressing for Mr. Modi's ouster for several reasons. "These are the three objectives, national interest, to protect the secular fabric in the country, to protect the party's ideology, manifesto, to create faith among the people," Mr. Naidu said.

The BJP averted a political crisis over the weekend, when it persuaded the Telugu Desam Party to continue supporting the coalition despite its differences with the party over Mr. Modi's dismissal.

But the rift with the regional party has not been fully bridged. The Telugu Desam Party says it is will continue its campaign for Mr. Modi's resignation. The party also says it is keeping its options open on the question of continuing its alliance with the government. The Telugu Desam Party's 29 members of parliament provide crucial support to the fragile coalition.

Two smaller allies have joined demands for Mr. Modi's ouster, raising fears of political instability.

The BJP cobbled together a 22 party coalition in 1999. Many of its secular allies have been increasingly unhappy over the government's apparent inability to tackle hardline Hindu groups accused of bias against the country's Muslims.