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India's Modi fasts, seeks to end riot controversy

September 17, 2011

Narendra Modi
Modi has long been accused by human rights groups of turning a blind eye to the violence, with some suggesting he actively encouraged it. — Photo by Reuters

AHMEDABAD: Controversial Indian Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi began a fast Saturday to promote “goodwill” in what was seen as a bid to project himself as a potential candidate for premier.

“My mission is to spread peace, goodwill and brotherhood,” Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi said at the start of his three-day fast attended by top fellow leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's main city.

Modi, arguably India's most polarising political figure, is seeking to put behind him allegations of complicity in deadly Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002 in a makeover seen by commentators as grooming him to be the next prime minister.

The silver-haired leader, 61, conducting what television stations dubbed a “fast versus past,” told the crowd he was seeking to “promote communal harmony”.

In a full-page letter published in Saturday's newspapers, he said “no state, society or individual can claim to be perfect” and that he was “grateful to all those who pointed out my genuine mistakes”.

He made no apologies for what human rights groups have condemned as his lax response to the massacre of as many as 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, during communal riots which swept the western state in 2002.

At the same time, he told the audience which included political and religious leaders and some Muslim traders, “I feel the pain of all the families who lost their near and dear ones”.

Modi, who has always denied any wrongdoing over the riots, got a major lift earlier this week when the Supreme Court refrained from passing any order on a petition seeking his prosecution over the riots.

During the last decade, Modi has become a torchbearer of corporate good governance with his state posting annual growth of more than 11 per cent in recent years and attracted major international investors.

His staunch anti-corruption reputation has made him increasingly popular among many Indians as the Congress party-led national government is mired in multi-billion-dollar graft scandals.

He consistently figures as India's most popular chief minister in opinion polls.

“Modi is on a fast to Racecourse Road,” said prominent Indian media commentator Suhel Seth, referring to the prime minister's official residence in New Delhi.