Rahul Gandhi was stripped of his membership of the Lok Sabha on Friday, a day after a Surat court convicted him in a defamation case.
The Opposition, including some parties that do not usually support the Congress, unanimously condemned the move, calling it an attack on democracy. In some parts of the country, workers of the Congress and the BJP clashed on the streets, as Rahul Gandhi said: “I am fighting for the voice of India. I am ready to pay any price.” After a meeting of senior leaders late in the evening, the Congress announced a nationwide agitation against Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification, alleging that the government had acted with lightning speed to “gag” him.
Earlier, the Speaker’s office said in a notification: “Consequent upon his conviction by the court of chief judicial magistrate, Surat...Rahul Gandhi, member of Lok Sabha representing the Wayanad constituency, stands disqualified from the membership of Lok Sabha from the date of his conviction i.e. March 23, 2023.”
Following his conviction and disqualification, Rahul Gandhi will be debarred from contesting elections for eight years, unless a higher court stays his conviction and sentence. If a higher court reduces his sentence by even one day, the Lok Sabha Speaker will have to reverse his order. The Surat court order clearly gave him 30 days to appeal (otherwise he would have been led away to prison from the court where the order was delivered). But whether the order also suspended his sentence pending the appeal is still not clear, former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi said.
Reacting to Gandhi’s disqualification, the Congress said it would fight the battle both “legally and politically”.
“We will not be intimidated or silenced. Instead of a JPC (joint parliamentary committee probe) into the PM-linked Adani MahaMegaScam, Rahul Gandhi stands disqualified. Indian Democracy Om Shanti,” Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh said in a tweet.
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Rajya Sabha Congress leader P Chidambaram said: “Judgment on 23 March, disqualification on 24 March. The speed with which the system moved is astonishing. No time is spent on reflection, understanding or allowing time for legal review. Obviously, there are no voices of moderation in the BJP party or the government. The net result is parliamentary democracy has suffered another cruel blow.”
The party will appeal against the lower court order once it has got a translated and certified copy of the order, which is more than 100 pages and in Gujarati.
Defending Gandhi’s disqualification, Union Minister of State for Law and Justice SPS Baghel termed the move “lawful” and asserted that “everyone is equal before law”. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said the decision was a legal one and alleged the Congress was questioning the judiciary. “It was a legal decision and not a call taken by the political party. It was taken by a court. The Congress should clarify who they are protesting against,” he said.
Senior BJP leader Bhupendra Yadav said Gandhi had got enough opportunities to explain himself and provide evidence, and all rules were followed leading to his disqualification.
“When the order has come now the Congress is protesting against the order. They are abusing the legal system. In this country, the system runs according to the law and prior to this similar action has been taken against other public representatives.
“Not just Gandhi, but the Congress party should apologise for insulting the OBC community. They should work towards the development of the country instead of defaming the country's democracy in London,” he said.
Rahul Gandhi attended a meeting of party MPs before the start of the House proceedings. Congress Parliamentary Party Chief Sonia Gandhi was also present during the meeting. When the question arose about whether he should attend the House after the court order, Gandhi overruled objections and said he would attend. The House was adjourned seconds after convening amid ruckus over various issues, and Rahul Gandhi left Parliament soon after that.