India’s main opposition party has said it will stand by a great-grandson of the country’s first prime minister in forthcoming elections, even after an independent body found him guilty of hate crime and urged that he not be fielded as a candidate.
In a move that will be seized on by its rivals, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said it will continue to support Varun Gandhi as its candidate for a constituency in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
The 29-year scion of the Nehru dynasty was condemned by India’s election commission following a speech two weeks ago in which he threatened to “cut the throats” of Muslims.
As the speech was repeatedly replayed on television, Mr Gandhi claimed the tapes had been altered, and he was the victim of a conspiracy. But he pointedly refused to apologise.
The election commission said there was no evidence the recording had been doctored. It found his speech – in which Mr Gandhi compared a political rival to Osama bin Laden – had also incited violence against Muslims. It said that if the BJP stood by Mr Gandhi, it would be “perceived as endorsing his unpardonable acts of inciting violence and creating feelings of enmity and hatred between different classes of citizens of India”.
In a bid for power following its surprise defeat in 2004, the right-wing BJP sought to reposition itself, and reach out to centrist voters. However, yesterday party officials said they would continue to support Mr Gandhi’s nomination despite the commission’s ruling.
“The commission has no authority to give such direction to a political party,” said Balbir Punj, a BJP leader.
Dr Valerian Rodrigues, a political scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said that despite what the BJP had said publicly, it may yet ask Mr Gandhi to stand down and replace him with his mother, Maneka Gandhi, a former MP and daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi.