- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

NEW DELHI (AP) - India’s main Hindu nationalist party refused Monday to drop the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister as a candidate after the Election Commission found him guilty of hate speech and inciting violence against Muslims.

The furor surrounds Varun Gandhi, 29, who was filmed comparing a rival Muslim politician to Osama Bin Laden and threatening to cut the throats of Muslims during two political rallies earlier this month.

Gandhi is the descendant of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a founder of India’s secular democracy and the dynasty of politicians who have dominated the governing Congress party. However, Gandhi is a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Late Sunday, the commission found him guilty of inciting hatred and urged the BJP to drop him, saying it would be “perceived as endorsing his unpardonable acts of inciting violence and creating feelings of enmity and hatred between different classes of citizens of India.”

However, on Monday the BJP refused.

“The commission has no authority to give such a direction to a political party,” Balbir Punj, a BJP leader, told reporters after consulting top party leaders.

He did not address the content of Gandhi’s speeches. But last week, the party sought to disassociate itself from the comments.

The statement from the Election Commission said that Gandhi’s “speeches contained highly derogatory references and seriously provocative language of a wholly unacceptable nature.”

The commission said it lacked the authority to bar Gandhi from the elections unless he had been convicted by a court.

The commission rejected Gandhi’s claims the footage of his speeches had been doctored, saying it “is fully convinced and satisfied that the CD has not been tampered with, doctored or morphed.”

The Election Commission has already directed officials in Uttar Pradesh state, where Gandhi is running, to file a criminal case against him for “promoting hatred,” said Rajesh Malhotra, a commission spokesman. If convicted, Gandhi could be disqualified from running for office and imprisoned for up to five years.

The footage _ recorded at rallies on March 6 and 8 in Pilibhit, a constituency once held by Gandhi’s mother, Maneka Gandhi, a daughter-in-law of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi _ was broadcast repeatedly on Indian televisions channels last week.

“All the Hindus stay on this side and send the others to Pakistan,” he said in the video.

“This is the Lotus hand, ” he said, referring to the symbol of the BJP. “It will cut their throats after elections.”

Muslims make up some 14 percent of India’s 1.1 billion citizens. Muslims and the majority Hindus in India have a long history of tension and mistrust that sometimes erupts into violence.

Gandhi belongs to the powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has produced three prime ministers over six decades and has long promoted a secular government and tolerance for religious minorities.

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