Gandhi family scion arrested for hate speech in India

Other News Materials 28 March 2009 15:01 (UTC +04:00)

The grandson of late Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was arrested Saturday on charges of making inflammatory anti-Muslim statements during a campaign event earlier this month, reported dpa.

Varun Gandhi was arrested in northern Uttar Pradesh state for the remarks he allegedly made while campaigning for India's Hindu right- wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in advance of elections later this year.

Gandhi was arrested amid clashes between party workers and the police in his constituency of Pilibhit, about 180 kilometres north- west of Uttar Pradesh's capital, Lucknow, the IANS news agency reported.

Gandhi has been placed in judicial custody until Monday.

India's Election Commission, after inspecting video footage of Gandhi's speech, had said on March 22 that he had used "highly derogatory references and seriously provocative language of a wholly unacceptable nature against a certain community."

Gandhi claimed the video CD had been doctored, but the commission said it was not convinced and that the 29-year-old politician did not deserve to be a candidate in the elections. The commission urged the BJP to withdraw Gandhi's candidacy.

While inflammatory speeches are banned by the Election Commission, the commission does not have the right to bar a candidate from contesting unless he is found guilty through a regular legal process.

Speaking to reporters moments before his arrest, Gandhi said he had been framed.

"If, by going to jail, I can motivate people to stand up for their rights and their community, I am ready to go to jail," he said.

"I believe in my principles and am willing to fight for them. I have full faith in the law and judiciary," he said.

Two police stations in Pilibhit district have registered cases against Gandhi for promoting enmity between classes.

Hundreds of BJP workers turned out with saffron party flags in Pilibhit on Saturday in a show of support for Gandhi.

The police carried out baton charges as mobs of workers threw stones, PTI and IANS news agencies reported.

At least 50 BJP workers were arrested as they blocked roads and clashed with the police.

Gandhi had earlier filed an anticipatory bail application with the Delhi high court, but withdrew it Friday saying he had decided to face arrest.

"Varun Gandhi is doing what he thinks is the right thing. The court will now investigate and do forensic investigation to see if the CD was doctored," BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar said.

"He will be facing trial. Let us see what comes out of it. We believe justice will prevail," Javedakar said.

Gandhi is a first-time candidate and was contesting a constituency where elections are scheduled to be held in the fifth phase of India's staggered general election on May 13, Javadekar said.

The Congress Party, which leads India's federal coalition government and is led by Sonia Gandhi, accused Varun Gandhi and the BJP of playing communal politics.

Varun Gandhi's mother Maneka Gandhi was married to Indira Gandhi's second son Sanjay Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi, who was married to Indira's elder son Rajiv, is his aunt.

The two branches of the family are members of rival political parties. The Congress Party and the BJP lead the two main alliances fighting the general elections.

"I am sure the BJP leadership is in tune with the drama being enacted by Varun Gandhi," Congress Party spokesman Kapil Sibal said.

India's northern Uttar Pradesh state, which sends 80 lawmakers to India's 545-member Lok Sabha or lower house of parliament, has seen several Hindu-Muslim riots in the past.

Politicians in the state routinely raise caste, communal and religious divisions in their efforts to win elections.