India's Rahul Gandhi blames PM Modi for expulsion from parliament

Main opposition leader was disqualified from sitting as an MP after being sentenced to two years in prison in a defamation case

Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi speaks in New Delhi on Saturday after being disqualified as an MP. Reuters
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Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi on Saturday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of being behind his disqualification from parliament, saying the move was linked to questions he raised about the government's ties to a billionaire businessman.

Mr Gandhi, 52, a Member of Parliament for nearly two decades, was disqualified on Friday a day after a court in the western state of Gujarat convicted him in a defamation case and sentenced him to two years in jail.

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

The defamation case was linked to a 2019 election speech in which Mr Gandhi referred to “many thieves” having the same surname as the Prime Minister.

In his first remarks to media since his conviction, the Congress party leader accused the government of plotting his expulsion from parliament to silence him after he raised questions over Mr Modi’s relationship with the industrialist Gautam Adani.

“This whole drama is being orchestrated to defend the Prime Minister,” Mr Gandhi said at a press conference in New Delhi.

“Mr Modi is scared of my next speech on Adani. He is terrified and doesn’t want that speech in the Parliament. First the distraction and now the disqualification.

“I'm here defending the democratic voice of the Indian people. I will continue to do that. I am not scared of these threats, of disqualifications, of allegations, or prison sentences. They are used to everybody being scared of them.”

Mr Adani, who was ranked the world's third richest person earlier this year, has suffered a sharp drop in fortunes after allegations of corporate malpractice, artificially boosting share prices, market manipulation and accounting fraud in his port-to-energy business empire by US-based investment research firm Hindenburg.

Mr Gandhi and other critics of Mr Modi have accused him of enabling the rapid rise of the billionaire's business group in recent years.

Opposition party leaders are demanding a joint parliamentary probe into the Hindenburg allegations, amid repeated adjournments of parliament sessions.

Mr Gandhi's disqualification within a day of being convicted sparked accusations from Congress and other parties that the government was rushing to silence a senior opposition leader.

He was already under fire from Mr Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party over recent remarks in London, where he accused the Prime Minister of “stifling” the opposition voice and threats to Indian democracy.

The BJP demanded that Mr Gandhi apologise in Parliament for his “anti-India” comments.

“Democracy is dying in this country, there is an attack on the institutions of this country,” he said on Saturday.

“BJP leaders claimed that I am helping anti-India forces. I told the speaker that it is my right to respond to these allegations. But he didn't allow me.”

Mr Gandhi said he had faith in the legal system and refused to answer questions on the merits of the defamation case, which was filed by a BJP legislator from Mr Modi's home state of Gujarat.

“I am not scared of a prison term. I have only one step, which is to fight for democracy, he said. “My job is to defend the democratic nature of this country and I will do that even if I am reinstated or disqualified for life,” he said.

Mr Gandhi ‘s expulsion from the parliament is the latest in a series of legal troubles for opposition parties, who accuse Mr Modi’s government of using state machinery to silence them.

Dozens of opposition leaders and critics are being investigated by federal agencies for money laundering and other corruption allegations.

Gandhi is facing at least seven criminal cases, including one for money laundering.

Hundreds of his supporters gathered at the party’s New Delhi headquarters wearing masks bearing Gandhi's face and carrying posters reading “no apologies, no bowing down to power”.

Congress workers staged protests in several states. In Kerala, the protesters turned violent and clashed with police as they destroyed BJP flags and vandalised a banner of Mr Modi in Kerala’s Kozhikode city. Police used water cannon to disperse protesters in state capital Thiruvananthapuram.

Congress supporters in Madhya Pradesh state blocked a train in Bhopal as they chanted “All hail Rahul Gandhi” and carried banners reading “Black day for Indian democracy”.

Updated: October 31, 2023, 11:45 AM