Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday said he is fighting for the voice of India and “ready to pay any cost” hours after being disqualified from Lok Sabha.
Gandhi has been disqualified from Lok Sabha after conviction in a 2019 defamation case by a Surat court; the Congress Party termed the move an attempt to “silence” the young leader’s voice, as it vowed to fight the battle legally and politically.
Gandhi faces the risk of not being able to contest Lok Sabha elections in 2024 if his conviction is not suspended or overturned by a higher court before the elections. His disqualification will bar Gandhi from contesting polls for eight years unless it is stayed.
The Lok Sabha Secretariat in a notification said that it was effective from March 23, the day of his conviction.
The case pertains to Mr Gandhi’s remarks at a rally in Karnataka’s Kolar on April 13, 2019, just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. “How come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?”, he had said.
Nirav Modi is a fugitive Indian diamond tycoon while Lalit Modi is a former chief of the Indian Premier League who has been banned for life by the country’s cricket board. Gandhi stated that he made the comment to highlight corruption and it was not directed against any community.
The case was registered based on a complaint lodged by BJP MLA and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi, who alleged Gandhi’s remark defamed the entire Modi community.
Gandhi was a Member of Parliament from Kerala’s Wayanad constituency. He attended the Lok Sabha today, hours before his disqualification was notified. Congress workers have protested in Mananthavady, Wayanad over the disqualification of their MP.
Gandhi was sentenced under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deal with criminal defamation. The court in Gujarat’s Surat, which convicted Mr Gandhi, also granted him bail for 30 days, allowing him to appeal the decision.
The Surat court’s verdict is the latest legal action against opposition party figures and institutions seen as critical of the Modi government.
BJP president J P Nadda Friday claimed that Rahul Gandhi has a habit of levelling fabricated allegations having no connection with facts.
The Aam Admi Party (AAP), which rules Delhi and has two senior members currently in jail on charges it calls politically motivated, voiced support for Gandhi.
“We have differences with the Congress, but it is not right to implicate Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case like this,” AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal tweeted. “It is the job of the public and the opposition to ask questions.”
Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister MK Stalin said, “The disqualification of Rahul Gandhi as MP before he could go for an appeal is death knell for democracy. The metamorphosis of BJP’s vindictive politics into autocracy is happening at an alarming pace. If one goes by history, it is very clear what is in store for such autocrats”.
Legal luminary and former Union law minister Kapil Sibal on Thursday said while Congress’s Rahul Gandhi stands automatically disqualified as an MP with his two-year jail sentence, the sentence itself is “bizarre”.
“For a statement made in respect of certain individuals, for him to be convicted for two years – it is totally bizarre,” he said. Asked about the BJP stance that Mr Gandhi’s comment was against a caste and community, he shot back, “What community? It was against an individual. They may say anything, but I’m telling you it was against an individual”.
Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge said that Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified from parliament as “he speaks truth to power, voices peoples’ concern. What was the big crime… This is not a case of backward caste or forward caste,” said Kharge.
“They (government) want to get him ousted (from Lok Sabha). The person who speaks the truth and exposes you, you want to remove him through such means. Nobody gets two years jail for defamation, someone is given one year, six months, or apology is sought, but the provision for (disqualification) is two years and that is why they have applied it in complete,” Kharge said. “By shutting one person up, can you shut up 140 crore people. We will keep fighting, don’t think that by two years punishment, the Congress is finished, we will keep fighting. The Congress is alive and will remain so,” he said. The Congress president said fugitives such as Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi, who have fled the country with hundred of thousands of crores of rupees, are not being punished or caught, while action is being taken against Gandhi.
Uddhav Thackeray, who heads the Shiv Sena (UBT) party, on Friday called Gandhi’s disqualification a “murder” of democracy and said this is the beginning of the end of “dictatorship”.
In a statement, Thackeray said it has become a crime to call a thief a thief, while those “looting” the country are out. “This is the murder of democracy. All agencies are under pressure. This is the beginning of the end of the dictatorship…the battle only needs a direction (now),” Thackeray said.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted: “In PM Modi’s New India, Opposition leaders have become the prime target of BJP! While BJP leaders with criminal antecedents are inducted into the cabinet, Opposition leaders are disqualified for their speeches. Today, we have witnessed a new low for our constitutional democracy”.
Gandhi’s disqualification as Lok Sabha MP was against the basic tenets of the Constitution and was a “condemnable” move which highlighted the curtailment of democratic values, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar said.
Strongly condemning the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi from the Lok Sabha, BRS president and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao alleged that the move was the “zenith of Narendra Modi’s arrogance and dictatorial attitude”.
“Today is a black day in the history of democracy in India, he said, adding that all those who want democracy to flourish should condemn the NDA government’s misdeeds.
He alleged that it was “blameworthy” that the Modi government was not only misusing Constitutional institutions but was also using Parliament, the apex platform for democracy, for its “despicable actions”.
Popular MP Shashi Tharoor voiced his concern on Twitter: I’m stunned by this action and by its rapidity, within 24 hours of the court verdict and while an appeal was known to be in process. This is politics with the gloves off and it bodes ill for our democracy.
Over 30 opposition MPs, including those from the Congress, were detained on Friday as they took out a protest march from Parliament House, alleging that democracy is in “danger” and demanding a JPC probe into the Adani issue.
“Over 30 MPs from opposition parties had to be detained for violation of Section 144 (prohibitory orders),” a senior Delhi Police officer said. Prominent leaders such K C Venugopal, Adhir Chowdhury, K Suresh, Manickam Tagore, Imran Pratapgarhi and Mohammed Javed were stopped by the police and detained at Vijay Chowk for violating prohibitory orders, the opposition said. Delhi Police said those detained were taken to a nearby police station.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi has reached Rahul Gandhi’s residence. Earlier, UPA chief Sonia Gandhi too arrived at her son’s home after he was disqualified from the Lok Sabha.
In a series of tweets, Priyanka Gandhi launched an all-out attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying in a tweet in Hindi, “Narendra Modi ji, your sycophants called the son of a martyred prime Minister a traitor, Mir Jafar. One of your chief minister raised questions as to who is the father of Rahul Gandhi? Following the custom of Kashmiri Pandits, a son wears ‘pagdi’ after his father’s death, maintaining his family’s tradition.””Insulting the whole family and the Kashmiri Pandit community, you asked in Parliament why we don’t keep the name Nehru. But no judge gave you a sentence of two years. Did not disqualify you from the Parliament,” she said.
Priyanka Gandhi said her brother is a “true patriot” and has questioned Adani Group’s loot, raised questions on Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi.
“Has your friend Gautam Adani become bigger than the country’s Parliament and the great people of India that you were rattled when his loot was questioned? You call my family dynasty, do note that this family has nurtured India’s democracy with their blood,” Priyanka Gandhi tweeted.
(Agencies; Picture Courtesy: Reuters)