Germany follows U.S., says it is watching Rahul Gandhi case closely

As leaders criticise statements, New Delhi responses indicate growing suspicions over a western conspiracy targeting government

Updated - March 30, 2023 04:35 pm IST

Published - March 30, 2023 10:04 am IST - New Delhi

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi arrives at the Parliament House to attend the meeting of Congress MPs from Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha at the CPP office, in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi arrives at the Parliament House to attend the meeting of Congress MPs from Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha at the CPP office, in New Delhi on Wednesday. | Photo Credit: ANI

As Germany weighed into the debate over the prison sentencing and parliamentary disqualification of opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case, both the ruling BJP and the Congress exchanged words, further fuelling the debate over whether the Modi government faces a concerted attack by governments in the west.

At a press briefing on March 30, 2023, the Germany Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that Berlin had “taken note” of the verdict, and was watching the next steps, including his ability to appeal the verdict and whether the “suspension of his mandate” was justified. “[Germany] expects that standards of judicial independence and fundamental democratic principles will equally apply to the proceedings against Rahul Gandhi,” the spokesperson added.

Also Read | Government pressed for disqualification out of panic, says Rahul Gandhi

Earlier this week, the U.S. government also commented on the case, with the State Department spokesperson calling “respect for the rule of law and judicial independence as a cornerstone of any democracy”. “We’re watching Mr. Gandhi’s case in Indian courts, and we engage with the Government of India on our shared commitment to democratic values – including, of course, freedom of expression,” the spokesperson Vedant Patel said on March 27. To a specific follow-up question, he didn’t confirm or deny that the US government is directly in contact with the Congress party, but added that it is “normal and standard” for the US government to engage political opposition parties as a part of bilateral ties.

Congress leader Digvijay Singh welcomed the German statement on March 30, 2023, saying it took note of what he claimed was “democracy being compromised in India through the persecution” of Mr. Gandhi.

In response, the BJP’s Foreign Affairs Department In-Charge Vijay Chauthaiwale said it showed how “desperate [Congress party is] to involve external agencies in the domestic matters” and Law Minister Kiren Rijiju criticised Mr. Gandhi for “inviting foreign powers for interference into India’s internal matters,” adding that India “won’t tolerate ‘foreign influence’ anymore”. In another interview in Bangalore this week, referring to Mr. Gandhi, Mr. Jaishankar said that “people from inside this country are taking politics outside, and people from outside are interfering in politics inside”.

Also Read | The disqualification conundrum 

A growing number of statements this year by the government indicates it feels there is a larger “conspiracy” to the international concern and criticism over India’s internal issues, as a trend rather than a single issue at hand. In an interview to agency ANI in February, External Affairs Minister S.Jaishankar refered to the BBC Documentary on PM Modi, as part of an international politically timed agenda. Whether or not “election season has started in India, Delhi or not, but for sure it has started in London, New York,” he said.

Also Read | Does Rahul Gandhi stand disqualified as an MP following his conviction?

On the Khalistan issue, after Indian High Comissions were targetted by protests in some countries and graffiti by pro-Khalistan groups vandalised temples and Indian community centres, the MEA has summoned top diplomats of four ‘western’ countries, including Switzerland, U.K., U.S. and Canada, and PM Modi took up the issue with a fifth, Australian PM Albanese during a visit to Delhi.

The accelerated responses lead to the conclusion that the government is raising the stakes on the challenge it percieves from “indifference” or complicity in the West, in events constituting “internal affairs”. “It is time we are clear about who we are and the stand we take and if these things happen there will be consequences,” Mr. Jaishankar said at yet another interview on Wednesday to the News18 Network in Delhi.

The Ministry of External Affairs didn’t react to either the German or US statement immediately, understood to be for a number of reasons. To begin with, apart from the public statements both Berlin and Washington has said that discussions over Indian democracy already take place behind closed doors, and the government has dealt with them. Secondly, a war of words would be unseemly ahead of many high-level meetings between PM Modi and leaders of the countries coming up.

While German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has already visited New Delhi in February for a summit and will return for the G-20, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to meet with US President Joseph Biden four times in the next few months- at the G-7 outreach in Hiroshima and Quad summit in Sydney in May, in Washington where PM Modi will receive State honours in June and in September when Mr. Biden comes to Delhi for the G-20 summit as well. Joining issue at this point would only bring more publicity to internal Indian processes, officials said, adding that the government would still respond, if the need arose.

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