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Gandhi Family Member Jailed for Hate Speech

  • VOA News

A member of India's most famous political family is being held by police, charged with whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment ahead of upcoming elections.

Varun Gandhi surrendered to authorities before a throng of supporters who clashed with police outside the courthouse in Pilibhit, in Uttar Pradesh state, in what critics called well-orchestrated political theater.

The 29-year-old Gandhi told reporters he was ready to go to jail and fight for his principles, though he has denied mocking and threatening Muslims during campaign speeches.

Gandhi is a descendent of India's first prime minister, the independence hero Jawaharlal Nehru, and the grandson of slain Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. But he is not on good terms with much of the family and has been running as an opposition candidate for parliament with the ultra-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

India's election commission ruled his remarks were criminally offensive and said he should not be a candidate. But the BJP is backing Gandhi, apparently believing the controversy will strike a positive chord with some Hindus.

Congress Party officials say they feel pity for Gandhi, who is also a nephew of party boss Sonia Gandhi.

Police outside the courthouse fired tear gas and used bamboo sticks to repel demonstrators, who hurled stones.

Officials say Varun Gandhi will likely remain in custody until a bail hearing on Monday.

India's national elections, the world's largest exercise in democracy, begin in less than three weeks.

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