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Indian Nationalist Leader Says Violence Shook Him To The Core

The chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat is often spoken of as the country's next prime minister. But his critics accuse Narendra Modi of being responsible for a wave of anti-Muslim violence in his state in 2002. The accusation has stuck despite Modi being cleared of wrongdoing in the violence and despite his record as an efficient administrator.

In a long blog post Friday, Modi addressed the criticism.

"I was shaken to the core," he wrote on his website. " 'Grief,' 'Sadness,' 'Misery,' 'Pain,' 'Anguish,' 'Agony' — mere words could not capture the absolute emptiness one felt on witnessing such inhumanity."

But the comments fall short of what many victims of the riots wanted: an apology.

"This is just an attempt to try and burnish his image for the 2014 elections, but this is not going to fly," said Manish Tewari, a member of India's ruling Congress Party and the country's information and broadcasting minister. "No expression of remorse changes the reality that thousands [were] ... massacred. There has to be closure, justice."

Zahir Janmohamed was visiting Gujarat when the riots occurred but managed to return to California. He has since returned to the state, but as he told NPR's Rachel Martin, the legacy of the riots still looms.

"I think the first thing that was surprising is how divided the city is," he says. There's a street known as 'The Border' that divides the all-Muslim area where he now lives — "known pejoratively as mini-Pakistan — and then across the border is the Hindu area."

Modi, as NPR's Julie McCarthy has noted, is a controversial figure in Indian politics. The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder spoke to NPR's Here & Now about the emotions Modi evokes among his citizens:

"He's one of India's most controversial politicians, because while he has an incredible reputation as being a very efficient administrator, a leader who is not known to be corrupt, he also has a legacy, which is that in 2002, under his watch as Gujarat chief minister, the state witnessed one of the worst religious riots in Indian history.

"Something like 2,000 people — most of them Muslims, from the minority — were killed. And he's often been accused of not just doing very little, but actually actively fomenting those riots. And that's the reason why, even today, he is seen very much as a divisive politician, someone who, while he has the backing of many people, equally is loathed by many others."

The anti-Muslim violence followed the burning of a train that was carrying Hindu activists; about 60 people were killed.

Modi's supporters, who include business leaders and large numbers of the urban middle class, paint a different image: one of a leader who has made his state one of the best-performing in the country. They hope that if Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party wins next year's election, he will repeat that economic feat across India.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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