The great-grandson of India's first prime minister was arrested today as police investigated charges against him of making hate speeches and inciting violence against Muslims ahead of national elections, a court official said.
A political furor erupted after Varun Gandhi, 29, was filmed comparing a rival Muslim politician to Osama bin Laden and threatening to cut the throats of Muslims at two political rallies earlier this month.
Gandhi belongs to the powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has produced three prime ministers over six decades and has long promoted a secular government and tolerance for religious minorities. However, he is a member of the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
Gandhi drove through the streets of Pilibhit, a town in the state of Uttar Pradesh where he is seeking a parliamentary seat, accompanied by thousands of supporters waving saffron Hindu flags. Pilibhit is about 135 miles east of New Delhi.
He then turned himself in at the court, said Chief Judicial Magistrate Nitin Kumar. He will be jailed until Monday, when he can seek release on bail, Kumar said.
If convicted, Gandhi could be disqualified from running for office and imprisoned for up to three years.
On March 17, India's Election Commission directed officials in Uttar Pradesh state to file a criminal case against him for promoting hatred. The Hindu nationalist party this past week refused to drop him as a candidate.
Gandhi, a descendant of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, denied making the comments, saying the video had been tampered with.
"I am innocent. I have been falsely implicated in a conspiracy," he told reporters today. He did not accuse anyone by name.
The commission said it is "fully convinced and satisfied" that the video "has not been tampered with, doctored or morphed."
The video of rallies on March 6 and 8 in Pilibhit, a constituency once held by Gandhi's mother, Maneka Gandhi, a daughter-in-law of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, has been broadcast repeatedly on Indian television channels in the past two weeks.
"All the Hindus stay on this side and send the others to Pakistan," he says in the video.
"This is the lotus hand," he says, referring to the symbol of his party. "It will cut their throats after elections."
Voting in India's national elections will be held in April and May.
Muslims make up some 14 percent of India's 1.1 billion citizens. Muslims and majority Hindus have a long history of tension and mistrust that sometimes erupts into violence.