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04 Aug 2003 12:01
Rights groups on Monday launched an e-mail campaign urging South Africa’s former president Nelson Mandela to turn down an invitation to take part in Mahatma Gandhi birthday celebrations in the western Indian riot-ravaged state of Gujarat.
Narendra Modi, who heads the Hindu-nationalist BJP government in Gujarat, has invited Mandela to take part in state-sponsored celebrations to mark the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the late champion of India’s non-violent freedom struggle, on October 2.
“If Nelson Mandela attends the function it will give credibility and respectability to the Narendra Modi government,” said Jatin Das, the convenor of the Democratic Secular Front heading the campaign.
Das also accused Modi of trying to exploit Mandela’s well-known admiration for Gandhi for his own vested interests and to gain a fig leaf of respectability.
“Dear, Dr Mandela, you would surely acknowledge that Modi has invited you, not out of any reverence for you or the ideals you cherish and stand for… it is only a ploy to gain legitimacy for his government,” said the letter.
“In February to March 2002, the Gujarat government under the leadership of Modi carried out a campaign of genocide against the minority Muslims in the state of Gujarat, making the most blatant use of state machinery.”
Some 2 000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the Gujarat riots and Indian and international rights groups say the BJP-led state government did little to curb the carnage.
India’s autonomous National Human Rights Commission has also accused the state administration of turning a blind eye to vigilante attacks on local Muslims.
The sectarian bloodletting erupted in February 2002 after a mob, believed to be Muslim, torched a train carrying Hindu men, women and children, killing 59 people.
Gujarat, is the birthplace of Gandhi, regarded as the Father of the Indian Nation.
In 1893 when Gandhi was a young lawyer in South Africa he was ejected from a train and his luggage thrown out because he was non-white.
The incident forced an angry Gandhi to return to India and launch a non-violent fight for independence from British colonial rulers which was achieved in 1947.
Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison under the apartheid government, led South Africa from white minority rule to democracy without the predicted bloodbath on a continent riven by civil wars. - Sapa-AFP
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