Rahul Gandhi disqualified as MP after conviction in defamation case

March 24, 2023
Rahul Gandhi was convicted over comments about PM Modi's surname at an election rally
Rahul Gandhi was convicted over comments about PM Modi's surname at an election rally

NEW DELHI — India's senior opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified as a lawmaker after he was sentenced to two years in prison in a criminal defamation case.

The order from the office of the lower house of the parliament comes a day after he was convicted by a local court verdict in Gujarat state.

Gandhi was an MP from Wayanad in the southern state of Kerala.

He remains on bail for 30 days and has said he will appeal the verdict.

Gandhi's Congress party had termed the verdict "erroneous and unsustainable".

On Friday, the Congress led opposition leaders in a protest march in the capital Delhi.

Visuals showed heavy security presence in the Vijay Chowk area outside the Parliament as the opposition leaders stepped out carrying a large banner that read "Democracy in danger".

TV channels reported that a few lawmakers were detained as security personnel stopped them from leaving the area.

The protesting MPs had planned to march to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of President Droupadi Murmu.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge told the media that Gandhi sought permission to speak in the Parliament on Friday but was denied.

"If things continues like this, autocracy and dictatorship will [soon] come in this country," Kharge said at the protest.

The Congress says it plans more protests against the government in the coming days.

Gandhi was convicted on Thursday for his 2019 comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surname at an election rally.

A 2013 Supreme Court order says that a lawmaker convicted in a crime and sentenced to two or more years in jail stand disqualified from the parliament with immediate effect.

Gandhi will not be allowed to contest elections until his sentence is suspended or he is acquitted in the case.

National elections are due in India next year.

The Congress party has said Mr Gandhi is being targeted for exposing the government's "dark deeds".

Senior party leader Jairam Ramesh called the court verdict a "very serious political issue" that could affect "the future of our democracy".

"This is a great example of Modi government's politics of vengeance, politics of threats, politics of intimidation and politics of harassment," he said after a party meeting on Thursday.

Ministers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, criticised Mr Gandhi and his party for questioning the verdict.

Federal labor minister Bhupender Yadav said Gandhi had insulted members of the caste grouping known as Other Backward Classes (OBC) under which the name "Modi" falls.

"Insulting any surname is not freedom of speech," he said.

But India's former law minister Kapil Sibal, who quit the Congress party last year, called the court's decision "bizarre".

He also said Gandhi's comments were directed at "an individual" and not a community.

In his reaction to Thursday's verdict, Gandhi tweeted a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, "My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God, non-violence the means to get it."

Several opposition parties have come out in support of Gandhi. On Friday, Congress was also among 14 parties who approached the Supreme Court, alleging that the federal government was misusing investigating agencies to target BJP's opponents. — BBC

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