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Subject: Haren Pandya, Senior Hindu nationalist, shot to death

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Date Posted: March 27, 2003 3:35:47 EDT

Gunmen fatally shot a senior Hindu nationalist in western Gujarat state on Wednesday, raising fears of revenge attacks in a region where Hindu-Muslim violence killed more than 1,000 people last year.

Haren Pandya, a leader of a paramilitary Hindu nationalist group and a member of India's governing party, was shot by two assailants in the state's largest city of Ahmadabad, Police Commissioner K.R. Kaushik said.

He said police suspect the assailants were riding on a motorcycle and fired at Pandya as he returned to his car from a morning walk.

"He is no more," said Venkiah Naidu, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat. Members of the party said they would organize a statewide strike on Friday to mourn Pandya's death.

Immediately, shops started closing, roads were deserted and riot police went to neighborhoods where Hindus and Muslims live near each other in Ahmadabad and other cities, said Director General of Police K. Chakrovorthy.

Police said they feared violence would break out among followers of Pandya, a popular former home minister in the state government, and a prominent member of the National Volunteer Corps, an anti-Muslim group that holds training camps for Hindus.

Some 10,000 people gathered at Vadialal Sarabhai Hospital and many chanted mourning wails of "Hail, God Ram" after Pandya's death was announced.

The killers have not been identified.

Gujarat's Home Secretary, K. Nityanandam, said the state ordered an investigation into the killing by the Central Bureau of Investigation, India's equivalent of the FBI.

Nityanandam said Pandya lay unattended in his car for more than two hours after he was shot, blaming the tinted windows. He did not explain how the body was found or who informed the police.

Pandya had criticized the state's top elected official, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, for his handling of last year's Hindu-Muslim violence in Gujarat. Yet some riot victims said Pandya helped incite rioters in the Paldi neighborhood of Ahmadabad.

Most of those killed in the riots were Muslims, many of whom died when Hindus torched their neighborhoods in retaliation for a Muslim mob attack on a train car carrying Hindu activists.

Wednesday's attack was similar to one in December, when two men on a motorcycle shot another Hindu nationalist leader, Dr. Jaideep Patel, general secretary of the World Hindu Council, as he rode in his car. Patel survived the attack. At least two other World Hindu Council leaders have been shot at since the riots.

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