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High-profile Novice Indian Politician Jailed on Hate Charge


An estranged member of India's pre-eminent political family, the Nehru dynasty, has been arrested Saturday for making alleged hate speeches which offended Muslims. The case of Varun Gandhi of the opposition (BJP) nationalist party has become a focal point of Indian politics as the country prepares for its first national elections in five years.

In what critics deemed well-orchestrated political theater a controversial candidate abandoned further attempts to prevent arrest and turned himself in while a rowdy crowd of supporters cheered.

Varun Gandhi, of the Bharatiya Janata Party, told reporters moments, before he was taken into custody, he was ready to go to jail.

"I have full faith in the law, in the judiciary," said Gandhi. "And all I want to say is that I believe in my principles. I'm willing to fight for them."

After his arrest some supporters, who had gathered outside the Pilibhit city jail in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, hurled stones at police. Officers responded by firing tear gas shells and using their bamboo sticks to repel demonstrators.

Authorities say the 29-year-old aspiring politician will be in custody, at least, until a bail hearing on Monday.

Gandhi is a descendant of India's independence hero and first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. He is also the grandson of Nehru's daughter, slain prime minister Indira Gandhi. But Varun Gandhi is not on good terms with the primary branch of the family which remains at the helm of the governing Congress Party.

Just weeks ago he was a novice opposition candidate for Parliament with little recognition outside the district, which had been held by his mother Maneka Gandhi, widow of late Sanjay Gandhi.

Varun Gandhi quickly rocketed into the national spotlight after his recent speeches aired on national television appearing to show him mocking and threatening Muslims.

Gandhi initially claimed the recordings had been edited out of context. India's election commission ruled the remarks were criminally offensive and said he should not be a candidate. But the BJP, after some initial waffling, is backing Gandhi, apparently believing the controversy surrounding him and his alleged remarks will strike a positive chord with some Hindus.

Congress Party officials say the young politician, a nephew of party boss Sonia Gandhi, has been misled by BJP leaders and they feel pity for him.

Congress spokesman Digvijay Singh laments the BJP's support of the first-time candidate.

"What kind of a speech they're defending? The kind of speech, the hatred, the communal hatred, that is being spread by Mr. Varun Gandhi," he said. "Well, initially there was a shock amongst the BJP leaders. But then again they realized that this would further divide the Hindus and Muslims so they have up that as an issue."

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

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