- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

NEW DELHI (AP) - Authorities ordered criminal charges filed against the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister Tuesday after footage emerged of him comparing a rival Muslim politician to Osama Bin Laden and threatening to cut the throats of Muslims during a political rally.

Varun Gandhi, 29, descendant of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a founding father of India’s secular democracy, however, denied making the comments, saying the footage had been tampered with.

“The voice is not mine,” he told the CNN-IBN news channel. “I don’t know who could be behind this.”

But Gandhi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party tried to distance themselves from the remarks and BJP official Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said party leaders were debating whether to punish him.

The footage _ recorded by someone at the rally _ was broadcast repeatedly on Indian televisions channels Tuesday.

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

The Election Commission 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.

Gandhi, who is seeking a seat in Parliament for the first time, 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.

The Nehru-Gandhi family has long dominated the governing Congress party that has ruled India for 47 out of the 61 years since it gained independence from Britain.

But Varun Gandhi belongs to the main opposition party, the BJP. Gandhi’s aunt, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and his cousin, Rahul Gandhi, are two of the leading Congress politicians.

Congress Party official Digvijay Singh condemned Gandhi’s speech as “highly deplorable” and said “it deserves proper action.”

The footage was from a March 6 rally in Pilibhiti, a constituency once held by Gandhi’s mother, Maneka Gandhi, the daughter-in-law of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

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