NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's fiery opposition candidate for premier, Narendra Modi, voiced Friday 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 said in his blog his government reacted "more swiftly and decisively to the violence than ever done before in any previous riots in the country", which has been shaken a number of times by religious unrest.
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.
"Yesterday's (Thursday's) judgement culminated in a process of unprecedented scrutiny," Modi said.
"Gujarat's 12 years of trial by the fire have finally drawn to an end. I feel liberated and at peace," he said.
The ruling was a boost to Modi, who is serving his fourth term as chief minister of Gujarat, whose economy is one of India's fastest-growing.
Modi did not mention either Muslims or Hindus by name in his blog.
But he said, "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."
BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar demanded on Friday that Congress "apologise to the nation and Modi in particular, for carrying out a personal vilification campaign" for over a decade."
Modi has been campaigning energetically to paint himself as a pro-business reformer who can revive the fortunes of the world's largest democracy.
But he remains toxic in the eyes of India's Muslim minority which accounts for around 13 per cent of the population but is much larger in politically vital states such as northern Uttar Pradesh.
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.
Modi still faces a central government probe, announced Thursday, into accusations a top political aide supervised the shadowing of a woman at the chief minister's behest.
The inquiry, dubbed "Snoopgate" by India's media, is looking into accusations that the official spied on the woman and eavesdropped on her conversations using Gujarat's formidable state surveillance machinery.