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Outrage over BJP candidate's praise for Mahatma Gandhi's assassin

India's ruling party says it will ask Pragya Singh Thakur to apologise for calling Nathuram Godse a 'patriot'

Pragya Singh Thakur, an election candidate for India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, shows her ink-marked finger after voting in Bhopal on May 12, 2019. Reuters
Pragya Singh Thakur, an election candidate for India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, shows her ink-marked finger after voting in Bhopal on May 12, 2019. Reuters

A candidate for India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has set off a political firestorm by describing the assassin of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi as a patriot.

The comments on Thursday by Pragya Singh Thakur, a female monk who is facing charges over a deadly bombing in 2008, came as India heads into the seventh and final stage of its general election this weekend.

Ms Thakur told reporters Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse "was, is, and will remain a patriot".

"People who call him a terrorist should search their soul. They will get the answers this election," she added.

Gandhi, a pacifist revered as the father of the nation, was shot dead in 1948 by Godse, a Hindu fanatic angered by what he saw as Gandhi's pandering to Muslims and by the partition of India after independence in 1947.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party astounded many observers last month when it named Ms Thakur as its parliamentary candidate in the Madhya Pradesh state capital of Bhopal.

Critics accused the right-wing party of using her to polarise voters along religious lines.

Ms Thakur was arrested shortly after a 2008 bomb blast near a mosque in Malegaon, Maharashtra state, that killed six people and injured 100.

She was released on bail in 2017 but still faces a criminal prosecution.

Indian law allows candidates facing court cases to run in an election until a conviction.

The opposition Congress party, which Gandhi once led, condemned the remarks, with spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala saying that Ms Thakur had "insulted the entire country".

"The BJP's violent face has been revealed. Once again, the people from BJP are attacking the ideology of Mahatma Gandhi," he said.

A BJP spokesman said the party did not agree with Ms Thakur's comments and would ask her to publicly apologise, media reports said.

Mr Modi is seeking re-election for a second term as prime minister but faces a tough challenge from Congress. The final round of voting is on Sunday and the results will be announced on May 23.

Also on Thursday, Hindu vigilantes in Indian-controlled Kashmir shot dead a Muslim man and injured another after suspecting them of cow smuggling.

Police said a group of Hindu men intercepted the two Muslims on the outskirts of Bhaderwah town before dawn and shot at them after an altercation. A 50-year-old man died and another man was injured. Residents said the attack was carried out by so-called cow vigilantes.

The injured man, Yasin Hussain, said he and the slain man were taking three horses, not cows, with them. He said at least eight men intercepted them, hurled insults and fired shots at them without checking the animals.

After the incident, the victims' families and their neighbours protested in the streets to demand the arrest of the attackers. As more people assembled, the protesters attacked a police station with stones and damaged vehicles. Police fired tear gas and bullets in the air.

Authorities later imposed a curfew in Bhaderwah to prevent violence between Hindus and Muslims.

Hindus consider cows sacred, and slaughtering them or eating beef is illegal or restricted across much of India. Mob attacks on minority groups, especially Muslims, have been on the rise since the BJP came to power in 2014.

Victims of cow vigilantes have been accused of smuggling cows for slaughter or possessing beef. At least 20 people have been killed by groups mostly believed to be tied to Mr Modi's party.

Updated: May 17, 2019 11:33 AM

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