5 killed in blast at Indian opposition rally
New Delhi, October 27, 2013
Campaigning for India's tight national election turned violent on Sunday when a series of blasts ahead of opposition candidate Narendra Modi's rally in an eastern Indian city left five people dead and 83 wounded.
At least six crude bombs exploded near a public ground in Patna where tens of thousands of people had gathered to hear Modi as he took his campaign to the big heartland state of Bihar for next summer's national election.
"There was a blast right behind me. I heard people saying that one of the tires of a vehicle has burst," said a witness. "When I went to the spot, I saw many people lying injured on the ground."
Television channels showed pictures of shattered windows of buses, smoke billowing and people running in panic.
It was the first outbreak of violence since Modi, the challenger from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, began an aggressive campaign to oust the ruling Congress-led coalition.
To his critics Modi is a deeply polarizing figure under whose watch Muslims were attacked in deadly rioting in 2002 in the western state of Gujarat which he has governed for three straight terms.
But to his growing army of supporters including many in Indian business, the BJP strongman is the best hope the nation has of turning around the economy after helping turn Gujarat into one of the country's fastest growing states.
Modi himself has denied any allegations of bias against Muslims and a Supreme Court-appointed panel cleared him of any wrong in the riots.
On Sunday, he sought to broaden his appeal, saying Hindus and Muslims both needed to be lifted out of poverty. "Do you want to fight against poverty or against Hindus?," he asked. "Poor Muslims have to fight against poverty. Poor Hindus have to fight against poverty."
Modi did not mention the blasts in his speech, but later called them "deeply saddening and unfortunate" on Twitter. He appealed for peace and calm.
Police inspector general Sushil M Khopde said five people were killed in the blasts. Three unexploded bombs were found at the venue of the rally.
No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts. However, police say they have detained some people for questioning.
Sunday's massive rally was intended as a show of strength in Bihar where the governing party broke off a 17-year alliance with the BJP after it picked Modi as its candidate to lead the party.
The state sends 40 lawmakers to the lower house of parliament and could prove decisive in a new government's formation.
The BJP has picked up support since elevating Modi as its candidate for prime minister last month, but would need allies to form a government, two new opinion polls showed earlier this month.-Reuters