India ruling party chief charged with causing religious tensions

Amit Shah
Amit Shah

Amit Shah

LUCKNOW, India — Police Wednesday charged the president of India’s ruling political party, Amit Shah, over a speech that allegedly inflamed religious tensions during the national election campaign, an officer said.

Shah, leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was charged for the speech he made at a rally in northern Uttar Pradesh state that was torn apart last year by deadly Muslim-Hindu riots. “The charge sheet against Amit Shah has been filed by the investigating officer,” deputy superintendent of police Yogendra Singh told AFP in the district of Muzaffarnagar where the riots occurred.

Shah, a key confidante of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was credited for his role in the BJP winning a landslide victory at the elections in May over the centre-left Congress party run by the Gandhi dynasty.

Police filed the chargesheet Wednesday in a local court in Muzaffarnagar, under sections of the criminal code that include making a statement that intends to cause religious outrage.

The charges also include promoting tensions between different religious groups and appealing for votes on religious grounds, police officer Singh said.

Shah was not present in court to hear the charges.

In his speech, Shah reportedly told a crowd of largely Hindu voters that it was time to seek revenge by casting their ballots at the national election. He branded the then center-left government as one “that protects and gives compensation to those who killed Hindus”.

More than 50 people were killed in the sectarian unrest in Muzaffarnagar district, where several BJP members also faced investigation of inciting violence against minority Muslims.

The speech was seen by political rivals at the time as an attempt to polarize voting along religious lines in the Hindu-majority country.

A BJP spokesman said the charges were a political vendetta against Shah, 50, who had done “nothing wrong”. “This is pure and pure political vendetta by the state government,” BJP spokesman Ram Madhav said. “We will deal with it politically.” The BJP also defended the speech at the time that he made it, saying asking for revenge through voting was not inflammatory.

 
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