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This is exactly the worst possible thing that could have happened – BJP candidate and Indian political dynasty scion Varun Gandhi, whose paranoid rants against muslims were caught on video a few weeks ago, has been arrested:

A politician from India’s main opposition party has been arrested for allegedly making an anti-Muslim speech during a recent election rally.

At least 10,000 supporters of Varun Gandhi shouted pro-Hindu slogans at police as he was arrested in the northern Uttar Pradesh state on Sunday.

Gandhi, a grandson of the late Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, is alleged to have made inflammatory comments while campaigning as a candidate of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) earlier this month.

“Varun will remain in judicial custody in Pilibhit jail till Monday when his bail plea will be decided”, Mani Ram Rao, the investigating police officer in the case, said.

Let’s be absolutely clear here. The best possible response to hate speech is not to outlaw it, but to confront and rebut it. Silencing Varun via arrest is akin to making him a political martyr, and playing directly into the very stereotypes about muslims that Varun himself was stoking. Varun himself was clearly delighted by being arrested, predictably claiming the martyr mantle:

“I am ready to go to jail. And I have come here to boost the morale of my people,” Gandhi said before his arrest.

Varun is essentially having it both ways – denying ever having made the hateful comments at all (he claims the video evidence was doctored, which will be entirely believable to credulous villagers) but also deriving maximum political benefit from having said them, from his Islamophobic base.

The other lesson of all this is to underscore the simple reality – there is no such thing as free speech in India, just as there is no such thing as free speech in Europe (or anywhere else in the world, really, apart from the United States).

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