The BJP’s landslide victory in the 2002 election was seen by many as a shock, but the events of that year made it much less surprising. After the brutal attack on Hindu pilgrims at Godhra on February 27, 2002, when 58 were killed, riots rampaged across Gujarat. The death count reached almost one thousand, earning Gujarat’s BJP chief minister Narendra Modi the moniker “Muslim killer” for standing by as the violence continued. There were even allegations that the officials “were directly involved” and helped to cover up the state’s involvement. PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee later apologized and announced a US$31 million rehabilitation package, but a political campaign pledging to prevent another Godhra saw Modi go on to a landslide win.
In 2004, however, following protests against biased state authorities, the Supreme Court ordered further investigation into the riots, calling for a reopening of more than two thousand dismissed cases. In 2007, Tehelka magazine published secretly filmed footage of senior Gujarati Hindu politicians, mainly from the BJP, describing their involvement in fanning the riots. The report alleged that Modi ordered the police to side with Hindu rioters and sheltered the perpetrators from justice. Still, he was resoundingly re-elected and his ascension has continued unhindered; on May 26, 2014, he became prime minster, gaining a majority in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian parliament) – for the first time, for any party, since 1984.
Modi may appear untouchable for now, but others involved in these events have not been as lucky. In 2011, dozens of those guilty of the Godhra fire were convicted and sentenced, and a year later hundreds more of the rioters were convicted, including a former state minister, the first political figure to be officially implicated in the events.