Rahul Gandhi disqualified from Lok Sabha
Cong says will fight legally, politically; BJP terms action ‘lawful’
STATE TIMES NEWS
New Delhi: In a big blow to the Congress, its leader Rahul Gandhi was on Friday disqualified from Lok Sabha, nearly 24 hours after a Surat court convicted him in a defamation case, an action the opposition party slammed as BJP’s “vindictive politics” and vowed to fight legally and politically.
The BJP dismissed the charges and termed the disqualification “lawful”.
Announcing his disqualification, the Lok Sabha Secretariat in a notification said following his conviction by the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Surat, Rahul Gandhi, Member of Lok Sabha representing the Wayanad constituency of Kerala stands disqualified from the membership of the House from the date of his conviction i.e. 23 March 2023.
The disqualification will bar 52-year-old Gandhi, a four-time MP, from contesting polls for eight years unless a higher court stays his conviction and sentence.
The court in Surat sentenced on Thursday Gandhi to two years in jail in a defamation case, filed on a complaint by BJP MLA Purnesh Modi for his remark, “How come all thieves have Modi as the common surname?”
A lawmaker can escape a disqualification under the Representation of the People (RP) Act if the jail term, which should be two years or above, and the conviction both are stayed by the appellate court.
Gandhi will have to move an appellate court for relief and subsequently to the Lok Sabha Secretariat to seek restoration of his status as an MP after getting a favourable judicial order in the defamation case.
In his first reaction after disqualification, Rahul Gandhi in a tweet said,”I am fighting for the voice of India. I am ready to pay any price.”
While Congress leaders did not speak openly on the consequences of the verdict and disqualification, many leaders in the party feel this will help Rahul Gandhi and the party politically.
The action against Rahul Gandhi also saw a shift in the dynamics of opposition ranks with Trinamool Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, Bharat Rashtra Samithi and Samajwadi Party, despite their differences with the Congress, expressing strong support for the embattled leader, along with several other opposition parties.
This was Gandhi’s fourth Lok Sabha term. First elected to Lok Sabha in 2004 from Amethi, he represented that constituency for two more terms. In 2019, he lost the Amethi seat to Smriti Irani but managed to win from Wayanad.
Hours before the notification was issued, Gandhi attended Lok Sabha proceedings in the morning session. Before the proceedings commenced, he also participated in a meeting of party MPs in the Parliament complex.
Incidentally, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, in 2013, had attempted to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling to set aside an RP Act provision under which a person sentenced to imprisonment of two years or more shall be disqualified “from the date of such conviction” and remain disqualified for another six years after serving time.
Gandhi himself had opposed the ordinance at that time and tore the ordinance in a press conference as a token of protest.
Reacting to Gandhi’s disqualification, the Congress said it was “a black day for Indian democracy” and asserted that the battle will be fought both “legally and politically”.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge alleged the BJP made all efforts to get him disqualified as he was speaking the truth and fighting for the Constitution and people’s rights.
“This was not a question of backward class, Lalit Modi and Nirav Modi are not of backward class. They are trying to build a perception that Rahul Gandhi spoke against the backward class.
Gandhi was putting forward the truth before the country so they were not liking it,” he said in an apparent reference to BJP chief J P Nadda’s remarks that Gandhi had compared OBC communities to thieves.
The BJP would think that their problem is solved by ousting him from Lok Sabha, but it is not, as the demand for Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) would continue to be raised, he said. Opposition leaders have been demanding a JPC probe into the Adani issue.
“We will keep fighting to protect democracy and even if we have to go to jail, we will do so. Our people are ready to fight,” Kharge said.
Defending Gandhi’s disqualification, Union Minister of State for Law and Justice S P S Baghel termed it as “lawful” and asserted that “everyone is equal before the law”.
He also noted that a BJP MLA was also recently disqualified in Uttar Pradesh following his conviction in a criminal case.
Senior Union ministers and BJP leaders Dharmendra Pradhan and Anurag Thakur hinted that a conspiracy within the Congress might have played a role in its leaders not approaching a higher court for relief for Rahul Gandhi after his conviction on Thursday as it had done in the case of Pawan Khera when they approached a court within hours of the Assam Police arresting him.
“Who are the people within the Congress wanting to get rid of Rahul Gandhi,” Thakur asked, noting that the party has a battery of lawyers and wondering if the former party president was deliberately put on the “wrong path”.
He also said,”Rahul Gandhi is a habitual offender and loose cannon. He thought he could say anything without facing any consequences” and noted that the Congress leader is on bail in seven different cases.
Rahul Gandhi may also have to vacate his official bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi within a month if he doesn’t get relief from a higher court, officials said.
The development also saw the Congress core team getting into a huddle to formulate a strategy to tackle the crisis arising out of the court verdict and subsequent disqualification from Lok Sabha.
The high-level meeting was also attended by former Congress chief and Rahul’s mother, Sonia Gandhi and sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra among others.