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BJP refuses to drop 'provocative' Gandhi

Election panel says Indira Gandhi's grandson violated the code of conduct by using 'wholly unacceptable' language against non-Hindus.

NEW DELHI // India's Election Commission has advised the country's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) not to nominate Varun Gandhi as a candidate for the upcoming elections after he was accused of making anti-Muslim speeches.

However, the BJP said Mr Gandhi, the grandson of Indira Gandhi, the former prime minister, would take part in the elections in April and May. The commission yesterday said the footage featuring Mr Gandhi was genuine and he had violated election law. However, it had no legal power to stop Mr Gandhi from standing in the election unless he was convicted. Local media yesterday reported that the commission was considering filing a petition to Allahabad High Court seeking a ban on Mr Gandhi from contesting the election.

The commission's order directed the government of Uttar Pradesh state - where Mr Gandhi delivered the speeches and where his constituency of Pilibhit is located - to finish the local police investigation in the related cases as soon as possible. Mr Gandhi last night said he had been treated unfairly by the commission. "The EC hastily took the decision [to advise BJP to drop me]. It did not give me enough time or a chance to prove my points," he was reported as saying on a local television station.

In a 10-page order the commission said it was "fully convinced and satisfied that the CD has not been tampered with, doctored or morphed," and definitely carried "highly derogatory references and seriously provocative language of a wholly unacceptable nature against a certain community and were in grave violation of the [election candidates'] model code of conduct". The news comes as a second CD was given to the commission by the BJP's rival Congress party that allegedly featured Mr Gandhi attacking Muslims and Sikhs.

In the first CD, Mr Gandhi allegedly made derogatory comments against Muslims and his rival Muslim Samajwadi party candidate. In the second CD he was heard attacking Sikhs as well. "I am contesting only for Hindus. I don't want a single Muslim vote ? neither from Khalistan [a reference to Sikhs], nor from Pakistan." Although the commission's order said fielding Mr Gandhi as a candidate "would amount to violation of the constitution", the BJP said it would not pay heed to the advice.

Rajnath Singh, the party's president, said yesterday the party was united in support of Mr Gandhi and he would personally campaign for him in his constituency. Balbir Punj, a spokesman for the party, yesterday accused the commission of being biased against the BJP. "It was natural for the EC to have issued such an order against Varun Gandhi and our party. Anyway, we have turned down the EC's advice," Mr Punj told a local TV station yesterday.

"There are many [Congress and other party] candidates who are accused in criminal cases but are contesting. In the case of Varun he has not been declared guilty or convicted by any court of law. Not even a police charge sheet has been filed against him." Yesterday Mr Gandhi came under a renewed attack. "Varun's comments are deplorable and he should face action. EC should be ruthlessly strict in such a situation to discipline a candidate, who in selfish interest is flouting all electoral norms," said Shri Sharad Yadav, the leader of the Janata Dal (United) party, a BJP ally.

"However, reforms are needed with new laws which could help the EC act more independently in such a situation," he told local media. Priyanka Gandhi, Mr Gandhi's estranged cousin and daughter of Sonia Gandhi, was yesterday reported as saying on local TV that his comments were against the ethos of the Nehru-Gandhi family and she was sad to hear them. "Varun's comments are against the traditions and principles of the [Gandhi] family and he has gone against what the Gandhis have lived and died for."

The politician, the son of Sanjay Gandhi, who died when he was four, is estranged from his aunt and the ruling Indian National Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, a Congress party legislator. However, BJP sources said in Hindu-dominated areas Mr Gandhi continued to be popular and the party had received several requests seeking his presence in campaign rallies. A commentator on Hindi IBN-7 channel said yesterday: "BJP appears to believe, at least in the Hindi belt, Varun Gandhi can considerably succeed to polarise Hindu voters in favour of the BJP and for it he will be used as party's star campaigner and has not been dumped."

aziz@thenational.ae

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