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India: No Censure for BJP - 2002-05-01

In India, a motion seeking to censure the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) led government over its handling of religious violence in Gujarat state has been defeated early Wednesda. But key allies abstained from the vote, exposing divisons in the multiparty coalition government.

At the end of a bitter 16-hour debate that dragged on through the night, it was an easy victory for the government. The opposition-backed motion was defeated with 184 lawmakers voting for the motion, and 276 against it.

The motion had sought to censure the government for failing to protect muslims - specially in Gujarat state - where nearly 900 people, mostly muslims, have died in communal clashes in the last two months.

Most of the BJP's 19 allies stood by the party and opposed the motion. But the BJP did not escape unscathed. Its largest supporter, the Telugu Desam Party walked out before the vote took place because the government failed to meet its demand for the dismissal of Gujarat's chief Minister - also a member of the BJP.

A smaller ally, the National Conference also abstained from voting, and junior foreign minister,Omar Abdullah, who belongs to the party offered to quit the government.

Tempers often flared during the chaotic discussion, as opposition lawmakers described the continuing violence in Gujarat as a threat to India's secular society.

The violence in Gujarat began two months ago, when muslims set fire to a train carrying Hindus, killing 58 people. The attack set off a wave of rioting in which hundreds of muslims have been killed in revenge attacks.

Opposition leader, Sonia Gandhi, said the state continues to "burn and bleed", and led demands for a change in the state's administration, which has been accused of not doing enough to protect muslims, and even colluding with Hindu rioters. "Bring the guilty to book -- immediately, quickly, restore law and order firmly, ensure that full relief and rehabilitation measures are extended to all the affected families without delay, remove the chief minister who by deliberate design is failing to fulfil his constitutional duties," says Ms. Gandhi.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee did not comment on demands for sacking the State's Chief Minister Narendra Modi, but admitted his government had failed to anticipate the widespread reprisals against muslims in Gujarat.

He appealed to all political parties to unite and face the challenge of restoring communal harmony. Mr. Vajpayee said his government's primary objective is to rehabilitate the victims of the rioting. "Rehabiltiation of all those who lost their homes, belongings and means of livelihood and the immediate revival of normal economic activity in all the affected areas now remain the primary national task," he said. "They need to be addressed with utmost expedition, understanding and sympathy."

The religious violence in Gujarat continues unabated, with sporadic Hindu-Muslim clashes reported almost daily.