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New Delhi: A member of the European Parliament (MEP) on Tuesday questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s past record vis-a-vis minorities in India, the second European Union parliamentarian to do so in two months.

The questions about Modi’s past come even as world leaders jostle to deepen cooperation with the new government headed by Modi. Russia and China sent special envoys to establish contact with the new government while French foreign minister Laurent Fabius and former British foreign secretary William Hague made quick trips to New Delhi as did US secretary of state John Kerry.

Tuesday’s question was from Romanian MEP Viorica Dancila who cited recent reports in the international media that she said “have expressed great concern over Modi’s past record and nationalist agenda".

“Modi, a member of a Hindu nationalist (Bharatiya Janata Party) party, has been criticized for his role in the deadly Gujarat Hindu-Muslim riots of 2002, in which more than 1,000 members of the Muslim community lost their lives. Modi was chief minister of the state at the time," she said.

“India’s 1.3 billion population comprises a large number of minority groups, including Christians, Muslims and others. Is the EU monitoring the situation in India regarding minority rights and the policy that the new Indian leadership intends to pursue on this matter?"

She was referring to the sectarian riots in 2002 in which many hundreds of people— mostly Muslims—were killed in apparent retaliation after a Muslim mob torched a train compartment carrying Hindu pilgrims in Gujarat’s Godhra town. Modi was then the chief minister of Gujarat and was accused of turning a blind eye to the riots. Western countries led by the US and the UK boycotted Modi for his alleged human rights record. But earlier this year, an Indian court absolved him of blame and the BJP led by him won national elections.

Dancila also wanted to know the condition of the “large proportion of India’s population living in conditions of extreme poverty and the initiatives that will provide greater access to education and food safety part of the ongoing EU-India FTA (Free Trade Agreement) negotiations".

India and the 27-nation European Union (EU) have been negotiating an FTA since 2007 but several contentious issues continue to block agreement.

“Given that national policies regarding minorities could potentially threaten peace and security in South Asia, including in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, is the EU pursuing a collective agreement between these countries with a view to addressing such concerns?" Dancila asked.

BJP spokesman Sanjay Kaul dismissed the MEP’s questions, saying, “The people in question are not in sync with the current affairs in India and do not respect (India’s) independent judicial system. It seems they have no faith in the democratic values of India. The 2002 incident was an internal affair and the BJP believes that India has moved on. The European countries should be more concerned about what is happening in their own backyard," Kaul said.

Former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said such questions by MEPs should not be given too much of importance “as they are not deciding on national policy".

“It does not matter very much to us as this is more for the EU high representative on foreign policy to answer. As MEPs, they have the right to raise questions but these in no way are reflective of European governments’ policies towards India," Mansingh said.

The ministry of external affairs declined to comment.

Another MEP, Spain’s Izaskun Bilbao Barandica last month noted that Modi “has a highly problematic history of racism, and has been accused of involvement in the deadly Gujarat Hindu-Muslim riots of 2002.

“In an interview with The New York Times in 2002, Modi said that his only regret was that he didn’t manage the media better," Barandica said.

“What steps will the EU take, in cooperation with the Indian government, to address the issue of inequality in India? Is this issue of social, racial and religious discrimination part of the ongoing EU-India Free Trade Agreement negotiations? Considering the fact that national policies on minorities could potentially pose a threat to peace and security in South Asia, is the EU pursuing a collective agreement with countries in the region to address such concerns?" Barandica asked.

Gyan Varma contributed to this story.

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