Rahul Gandhi disqualified from India’s parliament over Modi ‘thief’ joke
India’s opposition suffered a major blow on Friday when Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi was disqualified from parliament after being convicted of defamation for insulting prime minister Narendra Modi.
Gandhi, 52, was sentenced to two years in prison in Gujarat on Thursday over a speech in 2019 in which he referred to “thieves” as having the surname Modi.
He is expected to appeal against the verdict. “I am fighting for the voice of India, I am ready to pay any cost,” he tweeted after his disqualification.
A parliament notice issued on Friday said Gandhi stands disqualified from membership of the lower house from the date of his conviction, in compliance with the constitutional requirements.
This disqualification could serve as a major setback for Gandhi, who is one of the most high-profile leaders of an opposition party in India, where there is due to be a general election next year.
Senior Congress Party politician Jairam Ramesh said that the party will not allow itself to be “intimidated”.
“We will fight this battle both legally and politically. We will not be intimidated or silenced. Instead of a JPC [joint parliamentary committee] into the PM-linked Adani MahaMegaScam, @RahulGandhi stands disqualified. Indian Democracy Om Shanti,” Mr Ramesh said on Twitter on Friday, shortly after the parliament notification was published.
“This is a clear case of the anti-democratic dictatorship attitude of the Bharatiya Janata Party government,” another senior Congress figure, KC Venugopal, said.
Congress Party workers have also called for protests to be held in Delhi, and were seen shouting the slogan “Long live Rahul Gandhi” after the leader’s disqualification.
The Congress Party led a protest march along with several opposition leaders in central Delhi earlier on Friday.
A heavy police security presence was seen on Vijay Chowk outside parliament as opposition leaders demonstrated against the conviction, and a large banner reading “Democracy in danger” was also seen.
Gandhi represents the southern Indian district of Wayanad in Kerala. He is the son of the late former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1991, and is part of a dynasty that has given India three prime ministers.
The once-dominant Congress Party controls fewer than 10 per cent of the elected seats in parliament’s lower house, and has been decimated by the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in two successive general elections, most recently in 2019 under Gandhi’s leadership.
Pradip Bhattacharya, a Congress Party politican from West Bengal, said the BJP sees Gandhi as a threat.
“The BJP is fearful about the rise of Rahul Gandhi and he poses a direct threat to the Modi government,” he said, adding that protests would intensify.
The criminal defamation case was brought by another man with the surname Modi – Purnesh Modi, a BJP politician.
“Why do all the thieves, be it Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi or Narendra Modi, have Modi in their names?” Gandhi said during an election campaign rally in Karnataka state in 2019.
Gandhi was referring to fugitive business tycoon Nirav Modi and former Indian Premier League chief Lalit Modi, who absconded after being involved in multibillion-dollar business scams against the country’s state banks.