India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party leader Varun Gandhi speaks to media outside his residence in New Delhi, India, on March 18. (Manish Swarup/Associated Press)
Despite India’s Election Commission finding him guilty of hate speech and inciting violence against Muslims, the country’s main Hindu nationalist party refuses to drop Varun Gandhi as a candidate.
“The commission has no authority to give such a direction to a political party,” a defiant Balbir Punj of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) told reporters after consulting party leaders Monday.
Gandhi made controversial comments at campaign rallies on March 6 and 8 that were caught on film.
Remarks caught on tape
The footage, recorded in Pilibhit — a constituency once held by Gandhi’s mother, Maneka Gandhi, the daughter-in-law of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi — was broadcast repeatedly on Indian television last week.
“All the Hindus stay on this side and send the others to Pakistan,” Gandhi said on the tape.
“This is the lotus hand, ” he said, referring to the symbol of the BJP. “It will cut their throats after elections.”
He also compared a Muslim politician to Osama Bin Laden.
Gandhi denied the statements, saying the footage was tampered with, though the commission said it found no evidence of tampering.
Commission filing criminal charges
Late Sunday, the commission found Gandhi 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.”
Lacking the authority to ban Gandhi from the elections unless he has been convicted by a court, the 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 is the great grandson of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
The foundation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty — which has produced three prime ministers over six decades — is secularism and tolerance for religious minorities.