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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
BJP stands by Gujarat chief
A Muslim man walks past destroyed houses near Ahmedabad
The Gujarat violence has tarnished the image of the BJP
The chief minister of western Indian state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, has offered to resign over his handling of India's worst communal riots in a decade.

An effigy of Modi buring during a demonstration in Delhi
Mr Modi has become increasingly unpopular

However the national executive of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party has refused to accept the minister's resignation.

BJP President Jana Krishanmurthy said the offer was made at the start of a meeting of the party's top policy-making body.

The decision not to accept it could threaten the unity of the fragile BJP-led ruling coalition.

On Thursday, the largest ally of the coalition joined mounting calls from opposition parties and rights groups for Mr Modi to be sacked.

The refusal to accept the resignation will also anger human rights groups and the opposition Congress party, which has launched a nationwide campaign calling for the minister's removal.

Mounting pressure

The BJP has told Mr Modi he should stand for re-election in Gujarat.

"The BJP national executive committee has advised Modi that whenever he feels so, given the existing circumstances, the best way is to go for a fresh mandate," Indian Law Minister Arun Jaitley said, the AFP news agency reports.

The BJP administration, and Mr Modi in particular, was accused of turning a blind eye when Hindu mobs went on the rampage last month in Gujarat.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
Vajpayee must find new strategies to rescue his party

Hundreds of Muslims were killed in apparent revenge for an attack in late February on a train carrying Hindu activists back to Gujarat from the disputed holy site of Ayodhya.

At least 700 people, mainly Muslims, died in the carnage.

In a resolution on Thursday, the Telugu Desam party said public confidence would be undermined if Mr Modi was allowed to stay in office.

"We will be guilty of eroding public confidence and failing to provide just and fair governance to the citizens of our country," the party said.

The demand was seen as a serious development for the BJP, which is dependent on the Telugu Desam's support to stay in power.

"By calling for Mr Modi's ouster the [Telugu Desam] struck an unexpected blow at the BJP leadership just on the eve of its important meeting," The Hindu newspaper said.

Three other BJP allies have also called for Mr Modi's removal.

Budget under fire

Mr Krishnamurthy earlier called for a re-think of the government's economic policy in the wake of recent electoral reverses for the BJP.

Bodies covered with blankets
Hundreds have died in the violence

He said the recent budget proposals of low interest rates and withdrawal of tax benefits passed by Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha was unpopular with middle-class voters.

Some 100 members of the BJP are attending the three-day summit in the state of Goa - including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Home Minister LK Advani.

The BJP now controls only three states in the country - Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand - while the Congress Party controls 14.

Meanwhile, Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi asked the chief ministers of Congress-ruled states to deal firmly with those trying to foment communal trouble.

Addressing the Congress Party's own two-day summit in the north-eastern state of Assam, Mrs Gandhi said no Congress-ruled state could afford to be lenient towards those threatening India's secular constitution.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Kingshuk Nag, Editor, The Times of India
"He had been steadfastly refusing to resign"
See also:

12 Apr 02 | South Asia
Analysis: BJP's Gujarat tactics
24 Feb 02 | South Asia
BJP setback in Indian polls
25 Feb 02 | South Asia
Analysis: India's vulnerable BJP
04 Apr 02 | South Asia
Vajpayee says riots 'shameful'
01 Apr 02 | South Asia
Concern over Gujarat violence
24 Mar 02 | South Asia
Rights panel censures Gujarat
07 Jan 02 | South Asia
Profile: Atal Behari Vajpayee
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