Haren Pandya, a political rival of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the Hindu leader accused of directing anti-Muslim mobs during last year's religious violence in the western Indian state, was shot dead yesterday by unidentified gunmen. A grassroots politician belonging to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Mr Pandya, 43, had driven to a park in the commercial city of Ahmedabad for an early morning walk when a gunman on a motorcyle shot him from close range. As news of his killing spread across a city scarred by last year's religious riots, thousands of angry supporters gathered outside the hospital where his body lay. But their anger was directed not so much against the Muslims, who had accused Mr Pandya of leading riotous Hindu mobs, but against Mr Modi, who had sidelined him within the BJP and withdrawn his police bodyguards. Gujarat's politics had been marked by the deep mistrust and hostility between the two. They were of similar age, but contrasting political styles. While Mr Modi is an aloof and arrogant politician who was a quintessential backroom party leader until the central government installed him as chief minister, Mr Pandya was gifted with the common touch and revelled in interacting with people in his city assembly constituency. He refused to change his style of functioning even after the state government withdrew his security detail - doing the rounds of his constituency once a week. Like Mr Modi, Mr Pandya was also a product of the RSS, or National Volunteer Corps, the country's predominant Hindu supremacist group that has spawned several other political, cultural and trade union organisations, including the BJP. But even RSS bosses could not get the two leaders to bury the hatchet. Mr Pandya was a state home minister in an earlier BJP government in Gujarat. But when Mr Modi took over the reins in 2001, he promptly dropped him. Despite accusations that he led murderous Hindu mobs in middle-class neighbourhoods in Ahmedabad, Mr Pandya reportedly gave in camera testimony to a panel of retired judges who conducted a private inquiry into last year's religious violence. He is said to have told the inquiry that the violence in which more than 2,000 Muslims were killed had been sponsored by Mr Modi's government. This made Mr Modi even more furious, and he ensured that Mr Pandya was denied a party ticket in December's elections in which the BJP triumphed. But Mr Pandya refused to leave the Hindu nationalist fold, helping ensure the BJP candidate was elected from his borough. He is the second important Hindu nationalist to be shot - a local general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad survived last year after he was shot in similar fashion by a motorcycle-borne gunman.