Narendra Modi, one of the most polarizing figures in Indian politics, said he would never apologize for the deaths of more than 1,000 Muslims by marauding Hindu mobs a decade ago in his state. But he added that he and his government should be punished if a court finds them responsible for the violence.

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View Photo Gallery: Narendra Modi could be ruling the world’s largest democracy, but he is also the country’s most divisive figure.

“If Modi has sinned, then Modi should be hanged. But even after trying sincerely to save many lives, some people want to bad-mouth me due to political reasons, then I can’t answer them,” he said.

Many Indians believe as the chief minister of Gujarat state, Modi could have prevented the deaths by ordering his police force to take action against the rioters.

This is not the first time Modi has said he would not apologize. In an interview with Post correspondent Simon Denyer earlier this year, for example, he professed no remorse for the violence. But his interview this week to an Urdu-language weekly called Nai Duniya (or New World) has generated an intense debate among politicians, analysts, journalists and Twitter users here.

But rarely have his comments challenging the courts to find evidence again him generated such a buzz, and analysts immediately speculated why.

First, Modi chose to say this to a publication that is widely read by Indian Muslims. Could this be Modi’s attempt at an image makeover to woo the Muslims, who comprise a little over 13 percent of India’s billion plus population? The interview also comes five months ahead of a crucial election in Gujarat in which Modi is fighting to win a third consecutive term.

Perhaps the most important reason is that Modi is likely to be a contender for the job of India’s prime minister in the 2014 national elections, and he is trying to soften his public image as a Hindu hard-liner.

In spite of numerous ongoing court cases against his government for its role in the riots, Modi’s pro-business state government has won him many fans at home and abroad.

“It was very clear to me the day he agreed to do an interview with me that he wants to be the prime minister of the country,” Shahid Siddiqi, editor of Nai Duniya, told the NDTV news channel during a program titled “Modi: reaching out or defiant?”.

“He wants to tell the minorities, ‘look don’t be afraid of me.’ But throughout the interview, I felt that he has failed to do that. I feel we should be more afraid of things to come if Modi becomes the prime minister of this country.”

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