The sentencing of those found guilty of attacking the Sabarmati Express just outside Godhra, Gujarat, in 2002 is has been concluded. On the morning of the 27th of February, 2002, 59 people, most of whom were Hindu pilgrims, were killed in a fire on the Sabarmati Express when a mob, comprised primarily of Muslims, attacked their train carriage. The Hindu pilgrims, most members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, were returning from Ayodhya where they were advocating the rebuilding of a temple to Ram on the the ruins where the Babri Masjid Mosque had stood (a contentious communal issue). Just before the train pulled out of the station, several Hindu passengers had gotten into arguments with a Muslim vendor and a couple Muslim passengers on the train. It is largely believed a crowd gathered in response to the arguments, and attacked the train. Of those accused of attacking the train and killing 59 people, 63 of the accused have been acquitted, 20 were sentenced to life in prison, and 11 have been sentenced to death. An 2005 inquiry commission lead by retired Indian Supreme Court Judge Umesh Chandra Banerjee found that the train fire that killed the majority of the victims on the train was accidental, not intentional, but this is a deeply contested finding.
The killing of 59 people on the train, arising out of arguments in a station with Hindu nationalist adherents is reprehensible, and certainly demands justice. But this is not the only justice that needs to be sought. 2,000 to 2,500 people died in the communal riots that followed the burning of the Sabarmati Express, and 100,000 people were forced into relief camps. The majority of those victims were Muslim. By and large the police and government in Gujarat stood by while rioters attacked each other and communal violence spread. A 2008 commission of the state government in Gujarat exonerated Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who has been accused of directly inciting Hindu rioters. An Indian Supreme Court panel in 2010 criticized Modi for a discriminatory attitude toward Muslim victims of the riots. Narendra Modi, still Chief Minister of Gujarat, is now actively courted by foreign executives for the business opportunities he can provide in Gujarat. Yet Modi is still operating under a large shadow due his connection with the riots in Gujarat, whether or not he turned a blind eye to or actively encouraged communal violence.