Charges filed against Indira Gandhi's grandson for hate speech

Charges filed against Indira Gandhi's grandson for hate speech New Delhi - Criminal charges were filed Tuesday against Varun Gandhi, the grandson of late Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi for allegedly inciting violence against Muslims during speeches in political rallies in northern India, news reports said.

Varun Gandhi is a candidate in the constitency of Pilibhit in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in the upcoming general elections for the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

According to the NDTV network, Varun Gandhi made the anti-Muslim remarks at a rally in the region, saying "All Hindus stay on this side and send the others to Pakistan."

In footage broadcast by NDTV he said Muslims had "scary names like Karimullah and Mazrullah" and "if you meet them at night you will be scared."

During pro-Hindu speeches, he also threatened to cut off the hands of those who raise a "hand against Hindus."

The comments shocked the Indian political establishment as the 29-year-old is the great-grandson of Indian statesman and first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who shaped the secular ideals of the Indian nation.

A criminal case was lodged against Varun Gandhi under sections of the Indian Penal Code and the People's Representative Act, following orders from the country's Election Commission, the IANS news agency reported.

He was charged with "promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony."

Hindus account for more than 80 per cent of India's 1.1-billion-strong population, Muslims constitute 13.4 per cent, the third-largest Muslim community after Indonesia and Pakistan.

Barring sporadic clashes and riots, relations between Hindus and Muslims have largely remained peaceful since India's 1947 independence.

The comments created a storm in political circles amid criticism from the ruling Congress party, headed by Sonia Gandhi, widow of Indira Gandhi's eldest son Rajiv.

Varun is the son of Indira's second son, Sanjay Gandhi. His mother Maneka was estranged from the Nehru-Gandhi family after her husband died in an air crash.

The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has no blood relation to Mahatma Gandhi, who led India's independence movement.

Congress spokesman Digvijay Singh accused the BJP of being a party with an anti-minority ideology.

"We have taken the remarks very seriously. The point is that whenever there are elections, BJP plays religious politics and divides Hindus and Muslims," Singh said.

Meanwhile the BJP distanced itself from the remarks. "We are of the strong belief that Varun Gandhi should apologize. The BJP dissociates itself from his remarks," Shahnawaz Hussain, a BJP spokesman, said.

Varun defended himself and said the recordings of his speeches had been tampered with by his rivals. India holds general elections from April 16 to May 13. (dpa)