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Indira Gandhi's grandson detained over anti-Muslim speech

Latest update : 2009-03-29

Varun Gandhi (pictured), the grandson of Indira Gandhi, has been detained for inciting religious hatred in an allegedly anti-Muslim speech he made during a political campaign earlier in March.

AFP - A scion of India's leading political dynasty was hit with fresh charges Sunday, police said, after his supporters mobbed the police station where he was arrested over an election speech.

Varun Gandhi, great-grandson of India's first premier Jawaharlal Nehru, has been detained in Uttar Pradesh state for whipping up religious hatred in an allegedly anti-Muslim speech he made on the campaign trail earlier this month.

Police said more charges had been filed against him because he reported to the police station on Saturday accompanied by wild crowds of pro-Hindu supporters who threw stones at officers in a series of violent clashes.

"I am ready to go to jail," Gandhi said on Saturday, as he handed himself over to authorities in Pilibhit, where he is standing for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in elections that start next month.

Gandhi, 29, has been at the centre of a political storm since cameras filmed him allegedly telling a rally that the BJP would "cut the heads of Muslims" and comparing a rival Muslim candidate to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

By standing for the BJP, Gandhi has broken away from his family's traditional support for India's secular status -- and his speech and subsequent arrest have focused the election campaign on the country's fragile Hindu-Muslim relations.

Gandhi, who is due to have a bail hearing on Monday, has denied making anti-Muslim statements and said the tapes were doctored.

"This is a conspiracy in which I have been framed," Gandhi, his forehead streaked with saffron in the Hindu custom, told supporters before giving himself up.

Police on Sunday said he had been charged with rioting and public order offences after the unrest at the police station, on top of earlier charges of "inciting religious hatred" in his speech.

At least 12 people were injured on Saturday, and Gandhi also faces what police told AFP was a "theoretical" charge of attempted murder.

The BJP, which has been attempting to secure the majority Hindu vote but also to widen its support base, has hailed him as a "true worker of the party."

The ruling Congress party -- which the Nehru-Gandhi family has long supported -- denounced the speech as "a cheap political stunt" and said it showed the BJP was playing on inter-faith tensions.

Muslims make up India's largest religious minority and their relations with Hindus have been troubled and sometimes violent since independence from Britain in 1947.

Varun Gandhi is the child of former premier Indira Gandhi's youngest son, Sanjay, who was being groomed as Indira's political heir when he died in a flying accident.

After Sanjay's death, Indira turned to her other son, Rajiv, who succeeded her when she was assassinated. Rajiv was later killed by a suicide bomber while campaigning.

The two Gandhi branches have been estranged since Varun's mother Maneka quit Indira's home in 1982 after being shut out of politics following Sanjay's death.

Varun's cousin Rahul Gandhi, tipped to one day become premier like his father Rajiv, is also campaigning in Uttar Pradesh for re-election as a Congress MP.

Date created : 2009-03-29