India’s Modi says he was shaken to the core by Gujarat’s 2002 religious riots

January 3, 2014

(Smoke pours from the carriage of a train on fire in Godhra, in the Indian state of Gujarat, February 27, 2002, during the riots there that claimed at least 1,000 lives. REUTERS/Str)

Indian prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has said he was deeply pained by religious violence during his time as chief minister of Gujarat state, seeking closure on a deeply divisive issue that has dogged him for more than a decade.

Modi’s remarks on his blog were the furthest the powerful Hindi nationalist has gone to commiserate with the victims of the 2002 religious bloodshed, one of India’s worst since the 1947 partition of the subcontinent.

“I was shaken to the core. Grief, sadness, misery, pain, anguish, agony – mere words could not capture the absolute emptiness one felt on witnessing such inhumanity,” he wrote. “As if all the suffering was not enough, I was also accused of the death and misery of my own loved ones, my Gujarati brothers and sisters.”

At least 1,000 people died in a wave of reprisal attacks across Gujarat after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire in February 2002.

Critics accuse Modi of not doing enough to stop the revenge attacks on minority Muslims, a charge he denies.

Modi leads the race for the national election due by next May, campaigning on a platform to revive India’s economy, growing at its slowest in a decade, and end the red tape and corruption that have bedevilled the ruling Congress-led coalition.

However, critics, who accuse Modi of a deep-seated bias against Muslims, said his remarks did not go far enough. Congress leader Manish Tewari said Modi’s comments were an attempt to burnish his credentials for the election.

“It is an exercise in sanctimoniousness. If it takes 12 years to come out with such convoluted half-baked explanations it obviously goes on to show that you do not believe in the core idea of India, its intrinsic values which constitute liberalism,” he said.
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