India police arrest over 200 for religious violence in Gujarat

NEW DELHI: Indian police in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat have arrested more than 200 people after violence between majority Hindus and minority Muslims, a senior officer said Monday.
The clashes in the western city of Vadodara were sparked by a distorted image posted on social media that offended Muslims, prompting authorities to block mobile Internet and bulk text messaging, the officer said.
The violence coincides with Modi’s visit to the United States where he is expected to meet President Barack Obama during a trip to push for foreign investment to promote economic growth.
Members of the two communities threw stones at each other and set vehicles alight in several days of clashes that started on Thursday, while one person was stabbed.
“We have now arrested over 200 people from both the communities in the last three days,” said D.J Patel, additional commissioner of Vadodara police. Police said Sunday 40 arrests were made.
“The man, a teacher, who posted the controversial message on WhatsApp has also been arrested,” Patel told.
Patel declined to describe the offending message and image but local newspapers have reported that a distorted photo of the Muslim holy land of Mecca was circulated on social media.
Modi contested and won Vadodara when his Hindu nationalist party swept to power at the general election in May, although he gave up the seat after the polls for another that he also secured.
Gujarat was hit by religious riots in 2002 that left more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead. Modi, the state’s chief minister at the time, has rejected criticism he failed to stop the bloodshed. He was cleared by a Supreme Court-ordered probe of wrongdoing.
The US had shunned Modi for years over the riots, a move that was dropped when it became clear he would win power nationally.
Patel said some of the 200 people were detained for taking part in the low-level violence, while others were arrested to prevent further unrest.
He said the city was back to normal on Monday with markets open. Another senior police officer said mobile Internet services would remain suspended as a precaution until Tuesday.
One person was stabbed in the unrest, the Press Trust of India news agency has reported, but all of the handful of injuries have been minor.