Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi attacks Modi over disqualification from parliament: ‘He is terrified’

India’s opposition leader Rahul Gandhi said on Saturday that he had been disqualified from parliament because the prime minister, Narendra Modi, was scared of him asking tough questions.

The leader of the Congress Party lost his seat on Friday, a day after a court in Gujarat sentenced him to two years in prison for a comment he made in 2019 about the prime minister’s surname during an election rally.

The disqualification is a major blow to India’s opposition, just a year before the country is to hold a general election, when Mr Modi will seek a third term in office.

Gandhi, 52, is one of the most high-profile opposition leaders and was expected to go up against Mr Modi next year.

“I have been disqualified because the prime minister is scared of my next speech, he is scared of the next speech that is going to come on [Gautam] Adani,” Gandhi said in his first comment since the court verdict. “So he is terrified about the next speech that is going to come, and they don’t want that speech to be in the parliament,” he said, referring to the prime minister.

Mr Adani is the founder and chair of the Adani Group, a multinational conglomerate, and is said to be a close associate of Mr Modi.

Gandhi said he was not bothered about losing his seat in parliament as his job was “to defend the institutions of the country and the voice of the people”. He accused Mr Modi of helping the Adani Group to get contracts in India, Sri Lanka and Australia, adding that a Chinese national was involved in investments in Mr Adani’s shell companies.

“Why nobody is asking the question who this Chinese national is,” he said. “Nobody knows where this money has come from. Adani couldn’t generate this money.”

Supporters of the opposition Congress Party burn an effigy of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (EPA)
Supporters of the opposition Congress Party burn an effigy of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (EPA)

Gandhi and the other opposition party leaders have demanded a joint parliamentary committee investigation following a report by Hindenburg Research, a US financial research company, that accuses the Adani Group of stock-price manipulation and fraud running into billions of dollars. The Adani Group has denied any wrongdoing.

Since Mr Modi took office in 2014, Mr Adani’s net worth has shot up nearly 2,000 per cent to $125bn (£102 bn), according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index.

Gandhi’s disqualification has led to his party workers staging protests in different parts of the country. His supporters, politicians who oppose Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and civil society members reacted strongly to his disqualification, calling it the “murder of democracy”.

Fourteen opposition parties approached the Supreme Court of India on Friday alleging misuse of central investigating agencies by the federal government. A plea in the apex court has also been filed, which challenges the automatic disqualification of MPs from parliament following their conviction in a criminal case.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, a senior figure in the Hindu nationalist BJP, rejected Gandhi’s accusations and said his disqualification from parliament had nothing to do with the Adani Group controversy.

Gandhi was convicted on Thursday in a case filed by BJP lawmaker Purnesh Modi, who claimed that Gandhi had defamed the entire Modi community during his election speech.

“Why all the thieves, be it Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi or Narendra Modi, have Modi in their names,” Gandhi allegedly said during the rally in the southern state of Karnataka. He was referring to fugitive business tycoon Nirav Modi and former Indian Premier League chief Lalit Modi.

The court granted him bail and suspended his jail sentence for 30 days, allowing him to appeal.