New Delhi: Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi has been given till Friday to explain his controversial remarks that included the suggestion that Pakistan's ISI has contacted young Muslims in Uttar Pradesh's Muzzaffarngar area to recruit them to work against India.
Mr Gandhi had been asked by the Election Commission to respond by today to allegations that those comments are aimed at spreading communal hatred. He asked for the deadline to be extended by a week because his office said he had been busy with the festival season and was not able to consult with his lawyers. He has been allowed another four days.
Mr Gandhi's contentious remarks were made last month at election rallies in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. In its complaint to the Election Commission, the BJP has accused him of violating the model code of conduct.
In a glut of speeches, Mr Gandhi blamed the BJP for "lighting the fire" of divisive politics. As an example, he cited September's riots in Muzaffarnagar in Western Uttar Pradesh in which nearly 60 people were killed. Mr Gandhi said the BJP instigates communal tension and it falls upon his party, the Congress, "to douse the fire."
The Number 2 in the Congress - his mother, Sonia, is party chief - also patented another controversy when he claimed that an intelligence officer had disclosed that Pakistani agencies, including the country's powerful ISI, were in touch with young Muslim men whose relatives had died in the riots in Muzaffarnagar, allegedly to lure them into working against India.
Muslim leaders said Mr Gandhi appeared to be questioning the loyalty of Indian Muslims; the opposition demanded an explanation for why intelligence officers were briefing Mr Gandhi, who is a parliamentarian but holds no post in the government.