NEW DELHI: Police arrested a politician from India’s ruling Congress party on Saturday over a threat to chop fiery Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi “into little pieces” if he stirred religious violence in the nation’s most populous state.
A video handed to police allegedly shows Imran Masood, fielded by Congress as a candidate in national elections in Uttar Pradesh state, making the threat against the hardline leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at a rally. Police said they had arrested Masood under hate speech laws, and that he had been remanded in custody for 14 days by a judge.
Masood will be detained while police investigate whether there are sufficient grounds to file formal charges against him. “Imran Masood was arrested this morning (Saturday),” a police officer at Deoband police station, where Masood was taken into custody, told AFP. Masood made the alleged threat in relation to deadly riots that erupted in the state of Gujarat in 2002, when Modi had just become its chief minister. “(Modi) thinks this is Gujarat where the Muslim population is four percent. There are 42 percent Muslims here...” he is seen to say.
If Modi were to make Masood’s constituency into Gujarat, “he will be chopped into tiny pieces,” Masood adds. Masood is Congress’s candidate in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur, which has a large Muslim population. Modi, tipped to lead his party to victory in the national elections kicking off next month, has been accused of turning a blind eye to the deaths of 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, during the violence. The 63-year-old BJP leader has never been found guilty of any wrongdoing in connection with the riots.
Uttar Pradesh sends 80 lawmakers to the lower house of parliament, and is seen as a potential flashpoint after its own deadly religious riots last September left at least 50 dead. Before his arrest Masood told local media he “did not threaten to kill Modi” and he only said the hardline Hindu leader “would have be taught a lesson” in event he stirred up any “Gujarat-like” riots in his constuency.
Masood also said his speech was from an old video, not from a recent rally, and may have dated from when he was a member of the regional Samajwadi Party, which rules Uttar Pradesh. Congress, meanwhile, said while it “condemned his words”, it would not cancel his nomination. “Why should we cancel his nomination? Just because 10 days before the election an old CD surfaced?” Rita Bahuguna Joshi, an Uttar Pradesh Congress leader, told AFP. Rhetoric on India’s rough-and-tumble election trail is often vitriolic, though actual death threats are rare.
During the 2009 election campaign, Varun Gandhi, great-grandson of India’s first premier Jawaharlal Nehru and scion of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, was accused of inciting hatred over alleged anti-Muslim statements. Gandhi was reported as saying he would chop off hands of Muslims who threatened Hindus in a video widely shared by media. A court later cleared Gandhi after he said opponents doctored the footage.
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