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Wednesday, July 28, 1999 Published at 18:31 GMT 19:31 UK

World: South Asia

Poll ban for Hindu leader

India's Election Commission took the decision after a court ruling

By Sanjiv Srivastava in Bombay

India's autonomous Election Commission has barred an ultra-nationalist Hindu leader, Bal Thackeray, from contesting elections and voting for six years.

Mr Thackeray, who heads the Shiv Sena Party in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, is accused of inciting Hindu-Muslim violence in an election speech.

[ image: Bal Thackeray: Barred for six years]
Bal Thackeray: Barred for six years
The decision comes only a month and a half before the Indian general elections. It is being seen as an embarrassment for not only the Shiv Sena, which is in power in Maharashtra, but also to India's governing BJP, a junior partner in the state coalition government.

Mr Thackeray has said he will petition the Indian President against the election commission decision.

The Indian Supreme Court had earlier upheld a lower court's decision holding the Shiv Sena leader guilty of electoral malpractices.

Hitler fan

It is not the first time that the self-confessed admirer of Adolf Hitler and leader of the ultra-nationalist Hindu Shiv Sena finds himself in the eye of a storm.

Referred to as a Tiger by his supporters, the cartoonist turned politician has courted controversy ever since he founded the Shiv Sena more than 30 years ago.

Mr Thackeray has repeatedly attacked Muslims in his speeches and he has not allowed the Pakistani cricket team to play in Bombay for the past five years.

The Shiv Sena leader also fancies himself as some kind of a morality "supercop". Last year he prevented the screening of a Hindi film in Bombay which portrayed a lesbian relationship, on the grounds that it was not only immoral but against Indian traditions.

The election commission decision to ban the Shiv Sena leader from contesting elections is being seen as a setback not only for his own party but also for the BJP.

The BJP would be forced on the defensive in trying to explain the conduct of an ally in the run-up to the Indian elections.

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