Rahul Gandhi disqualified as MP; Congress calls it ‘black day’ for democracy

I am fighting for the voice of India. I am ready to pay any price, says Mr. Gandhi; Congress accuses ruling party of trying to silence him and other Opposition leaders and announces nationwide agitation; BJP says the decision is legal

Updated - March 30, 2023 02:11 pm IST

Published - March 24, 2023 02:24 pm IST

Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge leave after attending a meeting of party MPs in Parliament premises on March 24, 2023. Photo: AICC via ANI

Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge leave after attending a meeting of party MPs in Parliament premises on March 24, 2023. Photo: AICC via ANI

A day after the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Surat convicted former Congress president Rahul Gandhi in a criminal defamation case over his Modi surname remark, the Lok Sabha Secretariat on Friday issued a notification to disqualify Mr. Gandhi as the Lok Sabha member from Wayanad.

Calling it a “black day” for Indian democracy, the Congress accused the ruling party of “strangulating” democracy by trying to silence the voices of Mr. Gandhi and other Opposition leaders. It would fight the battle legally as well as politically, the party said.

Mr. Gandhi, who had come to the Lok Sabha in the morning and had attended a meeting of Congress members of Parliament before the notification was issued, later tweeted, “I am fighting for the voice of India. I am ready to pay any price.

‘Insult to OBCs’

Stating that the Wayanad MP’s disqualification from Lok Sabha was the natural outcome of the court order and emphasising that the law was equal for everyone, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was quick to build a narrative that Mr. Gandhi’s 2019 comment about the Modi surname was an insult to Other Backward Classes (OBC).

“I have a question. Why do all of them — all of these thieves — have Modi Modi Modi in their names? Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi. And if we search a bit more, many more Modis will come out,” Mr. Gandhi had said at an election rally ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

While BJP president J.P. Nadda said that such remarks reflected the Congress leader’s “pathetic and casteist mindset,” Mr. Gandhi found support from Oppositions leaders, including those who had earlier maintained a distance from the Congress such as the Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, K. Chandrashekhar Rao of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi and Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Admi Party.

Also read: Opposition holds protest march alleging ‘democracy in danger’, seeks JPC probe into Adani issue

‘Truth to power’

Countering the BJP’s narrative of insulting OBCs, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said that the ruling party had made all efforts to get Mr. Gandhi disqualified for speaking truth to power.

“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 backward class. Mr. Gandhi was putting forward the truth before the country so they were not liking it,” Mr. Kharge said.

Wayanad seat vacant

The Lok Sabha Secretariat notification announcing Mr. Gandhi’s disqualification, issued by the Secretary General, said that it was effective from Thursday, the date of the Congress leader’s conviction. “Consequent upon his conviction by the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Surat... Rahul Gandhi, Member of Lok Sabha representing the Wayanad Parliamentary Constituency of Kerala stands disqualified from the membership of Lok Sabha from the date of his conviction i.e. 23 March, 2023,” the notification said.

The Lok Sabha website also showed the Wayanad Lok Sabha seat as vacant along with two other seats, Jalandhar and Lakshadweep.

Mr. Gandhi was serving his fourth term in the Lok Sabha. First elected to the House in 2004 from Amethi, he represented that constituency for two more terms. In 2019, while he lost the Amethi seat to the BJP’s Smriti Irani, he won from Wayanad in Kerala.

Seeking stay order

Unless the conviction is stayed by a higher court, Mr. Gandhi will be barred from contesting elections for the next eight years. Congress member in the Rajya Sabha and senior Supreme Court advocate Abhishek Singhvi, who is advising Mr Gandhi, was hopeful of getting a stay.

Asked if that would also automatically restore Mr. Gandhi’s LS membership, Mr Singhvi said that in his opinion it should, but added that he did not expect the Narendra Modi government to be fair. He also said that the Congress would move the Supreme Court if the Election Commission announced a byelection to fill the Wayanad seat.

Case chronology

Linking the court verdict to Mr. Gandhi’s February 7 speech in Parliament about industrialist Gautam Adani’s links with the BJP, Mr. Singhvi laid out the chronology of the case. “The complaint was filed on April 16, 2019 and the magistrate was one Mr. Dave. In June 2021, Mr. Rahul Gandhi appears in court to record his statement in person. In March 2022, the complainant [BJP MLA Purnesh Modi] files an application to summon Mr. Gandhi again. When that application is rejected, the complainant then rushes to the High Court and gets a stay of his own complaint.”

The Congress leader then recounted how, after almost one year, on February 16, the complainant suddenly approached the High Court to vacate the stay, on the grounds that sufficient evidence had come on record. “The High Court vacates the stay, the man rushes back to the trial court and we get this order. Meanwhile, the magistrate is changed. We were not born yesterday,” Mr. Singhvi added.

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