A great grandson of India's first prime minister is caught up in yet another controversy. He has been accused of inciting violence during the election campaign. Varun Gandhi, a Hindu-nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party leader, has now been detained under a tough National Security Act and can face up to a year in prison if found guilty.
Varun Gandhi is accused of making anti-muslim remarks in political rallies
Varun Gandhi has been in the eye of the storm ever since he started his campaign for the upcoming general elections due in April and May.
He is the son of late Sanjay Gandhi, former premier Indira Gandhi's youngest son, who died in a flying accident in 1980. Varun’s mother soon disowned the family and later joined the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, marking a clear shift from the Gandhi family’s traditional support for the centrist Congress party.
The 29 year old leader is contesting a seat in the northern Indian constituency of Pilibhit as a candidate from the BJP.
The controversy first arose, when Varun Gandhi was caught on camera allegedly making political speeches against the Muslim community earlier this month. He apparently compared a rival Muslim politician to Osama bin Laden and threatened to cut the throats of Muslims.
He denies the charges, calling it a political conspiracy and insisting the videos were doctored. His party echoed these views too.
“None of the allegations against him have been proved yet,” says the BJP leader and prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani.
National Security Act
Varun Gandhi surrendered at the weekend, but was soon hit with fresh charges. The police in northern state of Uttar Pradesh accuse him of inciting communal tensions and say his supporters clashed with security forces and tried to storm the police station where he was arrested at the weekend, leaving over a dozen people injured, including five police officers.
The authorities invoked the stringent National Security Act (NSA) against him.
Subhash Kashyap is an expert on constitutional affairs in New Delhi. He, however, doesn’t see it as a justifiable move:
“I think it is neither morally, nor legally justifiable,” says Kashyap. “In my view it is a misuse of power, a clear case of political processes being misused and law being politicised.”
Earlier the independent election commission reviewed the video footage and concluded they were genuine. The commission even went a step further and recommended the BJP drop Varun Gandhi from its candidate list. The BJP, however, insists that he will be their candidate and that he has a right to express his views.
The Congress party, which leads the current coalition government has called the whole episode a drama and “a cheap political stunt".
“It is a ‘political arrangement’ between the BJP and the BSP to ‘polarise’ votes on communal lines,” says Kapil Sibal, a senior Congress leader:
The BJP has, in turn, charged the Congress with playing "vote-bank politics" with the BSP or Bahujan Samaj Party, which currently runs the state government in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, over the issue.
Varun Gandhi could face detention for up to one year if found guilty. With the investigation ongoing, Varun has already emerged as a hero among the BJP's rank and file.
“Irrespective of what he said, he has become a national figure overnight. He has got tremendous publicity all over the country,” says expert Subhash Kashyap.
The scandal comes at a time when opinion polls show that the BJP-led alliance trailing the Congress-led ruling alliance in the run-up to the polls.