Speech on race fuels Gandhi family divide

An alleged hate speech at an election rally has fuelled a feud in India's oldest political dynasty, it was reported today.

An alleged hate speech at an election rally has fuelled a feud in India's oldest political dynasty, it was reported today.

The great granddaughter of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru has attacked her cousin Varun Gandhi over his anti-Muslim speech at a rally last week.

Priyanka Gandhi said: "He has gone against the family ethos. I am very sad to hear him say those things.

"Varun has gone against all the things the Gandhi family stood and died for. I advise him to read the Bhagavad Gita and understand it properly."

Meanwhile, Mr Gandhi, 29, replied to the Election Commission (EC) after it found him guilty of making communally inflammatory campaign speeches.

He accused the Election Commission of leaking the order to the media and acting too quickly.

"The EC has in haste and in unusually censorious language, passed an opinion," he said.

"It is astonishing that such harsh censure should be used without any attempt to ascertain the truth."

He also accused the commission of not giving him "a fair opportunity to appear in person or through counsel to establish my innocence".

The Gandhi family has always belonged to India's Congress Party, but Mr Gandhi belongs to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

His party initially distanced itself from the issue but as the controversy grew it decided to stand by their electoral candidate from Uttar Pradesh.

Balbir Punj, senior BJP member, said Mr Gandhi was still the BJP candidate in Pilibhit and blamed the ruling Congress Party for having a hand in the controversy.

"The world knows about the strained relationship between Sonia Gandhi (Congress Party leader and wife of Rajiv Gandhi) and Maneka Gandhi (Mr Gandhi's mother)," he said.

"We also know the proximity of the Chief Election Commissioner-designate Navin Chawla with Congress and its leadership. I would not like to comment anything on it."

The commission had advised Mr Gandhi's party not to field their candidate.

The opposition party's spokesman said: "The EC has no right to give advice to parties about who should be a candidate. We have turned down the decision of the EC."

In his speech last week, Mr Gandhi reportedly made connections between an opposition leader and Osama bin Laden.

"When my cousin, who is seven years old, saw the photo of Samajwadi Party's candidate, she said 'I did not know that Osama bin Laden is fighting from your constituency'."

"If anyone raises a finger towards Hindus, or if someone thinks that Hindus are weak and leaderless, if someone thinks that these leaders lick our boots for our votes, if anyone raises a finger towards Hindus, then I swear on the Gita that I will cut that hand," he said in his controversial speech.

The powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has produced three prime ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru being the first, over six decades and has long promoted a secular government and tolerance for religious minorities.

The Nehru-Gandhi family has dominated the governing Congress Party that has ruled India for 47 out of the 61 years since it gained independence from Britain.

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