Addressing some 10,000 Muslims at a refugee camp in Ahmadabad, commercial capital of the western state of Gujarat, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said that he hoped his words would put an end to nation's worst sectarian clashes in a decade.
At least 818 people, mostly Muslims, have been killed since a Muslim mob set fire to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims in February, sparking retaliatory rampages across the state by Hindus who burned Muslims alive and destroyed their homes.
"There should be an end to heartbreak - now," Vajpayee said. "We have to live together and die together."
He said that both the Feb. 27 train attack in the town of Godhra, which killed 60 people, and subsequent reprisals were "equally shameful" and should be condemned in the strongest terms.
New violence erupted in the state Thursday. One person was killed and three injured when police in the town of Modasa, 75 miles northwest of Ahmadabad, opened fire to disperse Hindu and Muslim mobs who attacked each other with knives and threw acid. Another five people were hurt in the fighting.
Vajpayee, who heads a Hindu-nationalist party, said his government was committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of all Indians.
"The duty of our government is to protect the property, life and honor of everybody ... there is no scope for discrimination," he said. "This is also what our religion and culture tell us."
Opposition parties and Muslim groups accuse the Gujarat state police of encouraging the Hindu rioters - or at least doing little to stop them. The National Human Rights Commission has issued a scathing report against the administration of the state's Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who has since been called on to resign.
Modi belongs to Vajpayee's Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata party. He was called to New Delhi for consultations with the prime minister but has so far managed to retain his job.
Survivors of the violence have warned that Vajpayee's visit has come too late and will do little to stem the bloodshed.
"Why was the prime minister not here a month ago? Was he waiting for more deaths?" Mumtaz Rermatula, a Muslim woman in a relief camp, was quoted as saying by The Indian Express newspaper.
The prime minister said he had wanted to come earlier but was told that the logistics would have been too difficult.
"There should be an end to heartbreak now. We have to live together, and die together," Vajpayee said.
He first traveled to Godhra, 95 miles north of Ahmadabad, where he used a ladder to climb into the burned-out shell of the railway car was set ablaze by the Muslim mob. A grim Vajpayee did not make any comments after spending a few minutes inside.
Later in Ahmadabad, he told Muslim refugees at the sprawling Shah Alam mosque compound that he could not comprehend how the ``madness'' had gotten so out of control.
"I can't even imagine how one can burn another person alive," he said. "Are we humans or not? What is this demonic rage? Have we lost our way so much that we cease to be humans?"
The violence in Gujarat is the worst in India since 1992, when more than 2,000 people were killed in Hindu-Muslim riots following the destruction of a 16th-century mosque by Hindu nationalists.