India's Rahul Gandhi acknowledges risk that he will be assassinated

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's Mr Rahul Gandhi, whose father and grandmother were both assassinated, has said he recognises that he too may be killed by extremists stirred up by nationalist fervour.

The 43-year-old, expected to lead the ruling Congress party into next year's elections, also told a rally on Wednesday of how he had been friends with the security guards who killed his grandmother Indira in 1984.

"My grandmother and father were assassinated and tomorrow I also may get killed; but I just don't care," Mr Gandhi, who is vice-president of the Congress party, said in a strikingly personal speech in the northern state of Rajasthan.

The notoriously shy Mr Gandhi has often appeared reluctant to follow in his forebears' footsteps but now appears to be opening up about his personal tragedy as an election tactic against the Hindu national opposition.

Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her Sikh bodyguards in revenge for an army assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar while Mr Gandhi's father Rajiv was assassinated in 1991 by Tamil suicide bombers.

"What does the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) do? They spark communal fire... Then we have to go to the people to put the fire out," said Mr Gandhi in excerpts shown on Indian television.

"It takes years to forget anger but it takes only minutes to ignite anger within someone."

Opinion polls show that Congress - even with Mr Gandhi in charge - is likely to lose power in the elections due by next May, with the BJP opening up a commanding lead.

The BJP's candidate for prime minister is Mr Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat who was at the helm of the state when some 2,000 people - mainly Muslims - were killed in communal riots in 2001.

Investigations cleared Mr Modi of any personal responsibility but one of his former ministers was jailed for life for instigating the killing of 97 Muslims, in one of the most notorious episodes of the riots.

While he did not mention Mr Modi by name, Mr Gandhi did refer to the bloodshed in Gujarat and accused the BJP of spreading "divisive ideology for their narrow personal gains".

Speaking of the day his grandmother was killed, Mr Gandhi recalled arriving home after school and seeing the "blood of my grandma in one room and the blood of my 'friends' in another" - a reference to bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh who gunned her down and were subsequently shot.

"I was very close to them and one of them had taught me how to play badminton," he said.

"It took a long time, about 10 to 15 years, to free myself from that anger."

Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister immediately after Indira's assassination, only to lose power in 1989.