Gandhi to run in Indian election despite anti-Muslim speech
TheStar.com - World - Gandhi to run in Indian election despite anti-Muslim speech
March 23, 2009
NEW DELHI – India's main opposition party today said it would field Varun Gandhi, the great-grandson of India's first prime minister, as a candidate in the coming general election, defying an Election Commission directive.
India's Election Commission on Sunday found Gandhi guilty of delivering an anti-Muslim speech in a recent election rally, described by the country's media as a "hate speech."
The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was asked to drop Gandhi as their candidate, but the party has refused.
"The power to advise as to who should be the party's candidate and who should not be the candidate does not rest with the Election Commission," Arun Jaitley, a senior BJP leader, told reporters in New Delhi.
The party said it will field Varun Gandhi, the great-grandson of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, as its candidate from Pilibhit in northern Uttar Pradesh state, as planned in the general elections taking place in April and May.
Last week, local media played clips in which Gandhi is alleged to have said he would cut off the hands of Muslims who threatened Hindus and compared a rival Muslim candidate to Osama bin Laden.
Gandhi, who is also the nephew of the head of the country's ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, has denied making any comments and said the tapes were doctored.
"I cannot help but express my deep disappointment over the unseemly haste in which the EC (Election Commission) has passed an opinion without giving me even a fair opportunity ... to establish my innocence," Gandhi said in his reply today to a show-cause notice served by the commission.
The allegations could damage the BJP, which has in the past been accused of stoking tensions to pander to its large Hindu vote base.
The row is also a reminder of old tensions between secular India's majority Hindus and minority Muslims, who make up around 13 per cent of India's 1.1 billion people.