- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

NEW DELHI (AP) - India’s Election Commission found the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister guilty of hate speech and inciting violence against Muslims, and urged his party to drop him as a candidate in the upcoming elections, officials said Monday.

The decision, which was released late Sunday, came after footage emerged of 29-year-old Varun Gandhi, who is seeking a seat in Parliament for the first time, comparing a rival Muslim politician to Osama Bin Laden and threatening to cut the throats of Muslims during two political rallies earlier this month.

“The two speeches contained highly derogatory references and seriously provocative language of a wholly unacceptable nature,” the Election Commission statement said.

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.

The commission said that while it lacked the authority to bar Gandhi from the elections unless he had been convicted by a court, it called on the BJP not to let him run, 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.”

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.

Balbir Punj, a BJP leader, said the party would discuss the commission’s finding and make a final decision soon.

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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