Indian riot police fire water cannon outside Modi venue

Indian riot police fired water cannon on Wednesday at hundreds of students outside a college in New Delhi who were protesting at an appearance by hardline nationalist politician Narendra Modi.

Modi, tipped to be the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) candidate for prime minister in elections next year, was speaking at the Sri Ram College of Commerce.

The high-profile visit to the capital was intended to stress his leadership credentials.

But the address was overshadowed by the scenes outside where large numbers of students had gathered, chanting slogans and carrying banners such as "Killer Modi Go Back", according to an AFP correspondent.

Police barricaded the entire venue as they tried to push the protesters back from the gates of the college.

Modi, who is chief minister of Gujarat, is a hugely controversial figure. He was in power when the western state was rocked in 2002 by some of India's worst religious riots since independence in 1947.

Some 2,000 people were killed in clashes between Hindus and Muslims, most of them Muslims.

One of Modi's former ministers was jailed for life for instigating the killing, but all investigations have cleared Modi of personal responsibility.

"We dont want his bloodstained hands to touch our university," said Divya Mehra, a politics student who was among the protesters.

Earlier Modi had held talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, after which he refused to be drawn on speculation that he wants to stand as the BJP candidate in elections due in spring 2014.

But in his speech at the college, he did little to dampen expectations that he wants to run for national office as he trumpeted his state's strong economic performance over the last decade as a blueprint for growth.

"Gujarat's development is being discussed worldwide. Gujarat's development is because of good governance," Modi said in the speech, according to the Hindustan Times.

"My Gujarat experience tells me we can achieve a lot with the people and systems we have."

In a poll published last month, 36 percent of voters surveyed said Modi would make the best prime minister -- well ahead of his likely election rival Rahul Gandhi of the ruling Congress party who had just 22 percent.