India’s police have arrested a Hindu religious leader for allegedly making a derogatory speech against India’s independence icon Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and praising his assassin.
Gandhi, revered in India as a Mahatma (Great Soul), was shot dead by a Hindu hardliner during a prayer meeting in the Indian capital in 1948.
Hindu organisations then had accused Gandhi of being sympathetic towards Muslims during the partition of the Indian subcontinent by British colonialists in 1947 into India and Pakistan.
Kalicharan Maharaj was arrested in central Madhya Pradesh state on Thursday for allegedly promoting hatred between religious groups in a speech earlier this month, the Press Trust of India news agency cited police officer Prashant Agrawal as saying.
153 (A)–Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race..
295 (A)–malicious acts to outrage religious feelings..
505 (1)B–Cause fear or alarm to public where any person may be induced to commit offence against State or public tranquility.. pic.twitter.com/g2ZqOfrGmm
— Shams Ur Rehman Alavi شمس (@indscribe) December 30, 2021
According to media reports, Maharaj said “Gandhi destroyed the country … salutations to Nathuram Godse, who killed him”.
He will be formally charged in court after the police complete an investigation. If convicted, he could be jailed for up to five years.
The opposition is also demanding the arrest of several saffron-robed Hindu religious leaders who called for a genocide of minority Muslims at a closed-door religious parliament, known as Dharam Sansad, earlier this month in the northern holy city of Haridwar.
The meeting was attended by at least one politician belonging to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), local media reports said.
Police in Uttarakhand state, which is ruled by the right-wing BJP, said they were questioning suspects, but no arrests have been made.
Attacks by Hindu hardliners against Muslims and other minorities have intensified after Modi came to power in 2014, and won a landslide re-election in 2019.
Muslims comprise nearly 14 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people.
Meanwhile, a group of lawyers has written a letter to the Chief Justice of India’s Supreme Court, NV Ramana, asking him to take action over the call for the genocide of Muslims.
The lawyers in their letter said at least two recent “events and speeches delivered … are not mere hate speeches but amount to an open call for murder of an entire community”.
“The speeches of the speakers pose a grave threat not just to the unity and integrity of our country but also endanger the lives of millions of Muslim citizens,” they said.
On Monday, members of various student organisations held a protest outside the Uttarakhand Bhavan building in New Delhi against the Haridwar hate gathering.