India's fiery opposition candidate for premier, Narendra Modi, yesterday voiced his "grief" and "misery" over deadly 2002 anti-Muslim riots that swept his home state of Gujarat after he became chief minister.
Modi, in his frankest statement to date about the riots that have dogged him in his quest to become prime minister in looming national elections, said in a blog he was "shaken to the core" by the violence.
As many as 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, were hacked, burnt and shot to death in the riots 11 years ago, according to human rights activists.
"Grief, sadness, misery, pain, anguish, agony -- mere words could not capture the absolute emptiness one felt on witnessing such inhumanity," Modi, named by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as its candidate for premier, wrote.
"This is the first time I am sharing the harrowing ordeal I had gone through in those words at a personal level," he added.
Modi's leadership of the state during the riots remains a contentious issue in the run-up to the elections. The 64-year-old, tipped in opinion polls to become India's next prime minister in general elections due in May, has been accused of being slow to stamp out the violence. But Modi denied the charge.
The 2002 violence erupted after a train carrying Hindu devotees was torched in Gujarat, prompting a wave of Hindu-led reprisal attacks against Muslims. A 2005 inquiry concluded the train fire was accidental.
Modi's statements came a day after a Gujarat court found no evidence he conspired with other government officials to stoke the violence and had told them to allow Hindu anger turn to bloodshed.
The ruling national Congress party, routed in a recent string of state polls, has sought to depict Modi as a strident Hindu nationalist unfit to rule a secular india.