Ahmedabad: Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi on Monday ended a three-day fast seen as an attempt to bury his controversial past and promote him as a serious prime ministerial contender.
The Gujarat chief minister, accused of complicity in anti-Muslim riots that swept the state in 2002, broke his self-styled “harmony” fast by sipping juice given to him by Hindu, Muslim and Christian supporters.
“My fast may have ended but my mission has not. My ‘harmony´ mission has united all of India,” Modi declared to a crowd in an air-conditioned auditorium in Gujarat’s main commercial city of Ahmedabad.
“India and Indians should dream for bigger things. Nothing is impossible,” said Modi, using language seemingly geared to reaching out to a national audience.
Modi has sought to remould his image from a poster boy of Hindutva -- or Hindu nationalism -- into a hard-nosed corporate decision-maker who has driven Gujarat’s rising prosperity.
Seeking to cast aside his image as a promoter of communal politics, he said: “I don’t work for majorities or minorities but for all of Gujarat.”
Many of the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership heaped praise on Modi, even though he still has rivals within the party for a possible run for the office of premier in the 2014 elections.
Modi’s staunch anti-corruption stance has also raised his standing among many Indians as the Congress party-led national government has become mired in series of massive graft scandals.
But the fast by Modi was dogged by controversy, underscoring the difficulties he faces in reinventing himself as an acceptable prime ministerial candidate.
Human rights groups say as many as 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, died in the three days of anti-Muslim bloodletting in 2002 -- one of the worst episodes of communal violence in independent India’s history.
Modi has persistently rejected allegations that he turned a blind eye to the violence and failed to take action to bring it to a swift end.
Victims of the anti-Muslim riots said in an open letter to Modi before he broke his fast: “You may be doing all this for your great ambition, but we have only one small demand -- we want justice.”
On Sunday, police detained protesting riot victims in Ahmedabad.
“There are serious allegations against Narendra Modi. He is just trying to whitewash his communal image but no one can forget and forgive the mistakes he has committed,” said senior Gujarat Congress politician Shankersinh Vaghela.
But Modi drew strong support from hardline Hindu leader Raj Thackeray on Monday who said he would back any bid by the leader to become prime minister.
“I will support Narendra Modi for becoming prime minister,” said Thackeray, who heads the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, known for its anti-migrant worker rhetoric.
“This country needs good governance and a good leader,” said Thackeray.
Modi began his fast on Saturday, saying he wanted to promote goodwill and communal harmony.