Rahul disqualified from Lok Sabha

New Delhi – 25 March: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was on Friday disqualified from the Lok Sabha, nearly 24 hours after a Surat court convicted him in a 2019 criminal defamation case over his “all thieves have Modi as the common surname” remark.

The disqualification will bar the 52-year-old former Congress president, a four-time MP, from contesting elections for eight years unless a higher court stays his conviction or lowers the sentence to below two years.

Soon after Rahul’s disqualification, the Congress leadership got into a huddle at the party headquarters and deliberated on the way forward.

Late on Friday evening, the Congress announced a nationwide agitation against Rahul’s disqualification, alleging that the Government has acted at lightning speed to “gag” him, and called for taking forward the efforts for the Opposition unity in a systematic manner.

Announcing Rahul’s disqualification, the Lok Sabha Secretariat in a notification said following his conviction by the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Surat, Rahul, Member of the Lok Sabha representing the Wayanad constituency of Kerala stands disqualified from the membership of the House from the date of his conviction i.e. March 23, 2023.

The Congress said it will fight the matter politically and legally. Hitting out at the Government, the Congress said it is “a black day for Indian democracy” and alleged that the action was driven by “political vendetta”.

Hours before the notification was issued, Rahul attended the Lok Sabha proceedings in the morning session.

Before the proceedings commenced, he also participated in a meeting of party MPs in Parliament complex. Rahul said he is fighting for the voice of India and is ready to pay any price, hours after he was disqualified from the Lok Sabha.

Later, Rahul tweeted, “I am fighting for the voice of India. I am ready to pay every price.”

However, the disqualification ostensibly has come as a blessing in disguise for the ragtag unity in Opposition, including TMC, AAP, SP, BRS which have been toeing a different line. On Friday, they echoed concern over the vindictive kind of politics and alleged that the Rahul was not given 30 days appeal space.

Some of them who had quit the Congress and are now part of other outfits too expressed their solidarity with Rahul.

Rahul is the second member of the Lok Sabha, after Lakshadweep MP PP Mohammed Faisal of the NCP, to have been disqualified in the recent past following conviction.

The Kavaratti sessions court in Lakshadweep had sentenced four persons, including Mohammed Faizal, to 10 years in jail after they were found guilty in an attempt-to-murder case. Following the conviction, Faizal was disqualified.

However, the Kerala High Court later suspended his conviction and sentence. According to the MP, the Lok Sabha Secretariat is yet to issue a notification revoking his disqualification.

Priyanka Gandhi said her brother, the son of a martyred Prime Minister, was called “Mir Jafar” and insults were hurled at his family but he would not bow down as he belongs to a family whose members have nurtured democracy by its blood.

“Insulting the whole family and the Kashmiri Pandit community, you asked in Parliament why we don’t keep the name Nehru. But no judge gave you a sentence of two years. Did not disqualify you from the Parliament,” she said.

Congress’ top brass, including party chief Mallikarjun Kharge and former AICC chief Sonia Gandhi, met late evening to deliberate on the party’s strategy going forward after their former chief’s disqualification from Lok Sabha.

Congress general secretaries Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, KC Venugopal, Jairam Ramesh, Rajiv Shukla and Tariq Anwar, senior leaders P Chidambaram, Anand Sharma, Ambika Soni, Mukul Wasnik, Salman Khurshid and Pawan Kumar Bansal, among others, were also present at the meeting. Sources said agitations were top of the agenda at the meeting.

West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chairperson Mamata Banerjee said Opposition leaders have become the “prime target of BJP” and Delhi CM and AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal described Rahul’s disqualification as shocking.

“The expulsion of Rahul from the Lok Sabha is shocking. The country is passing through very difficult times. They have kept the whole country scared. 130 crore people will have to unite against their arrogant power,” Kejriwal said.

BRS party National president and Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao said the disqualification of Rahul was a “black day” in the history of Indian democracy and shows the height of Modi’s “arrogance and dictatorship.”

“It’s time all the opposition parties, keeping aside their differences, condemn this undemocratic and un-parliamentary measure,” Rao who has been talking for a non-BJP, non-Congress political front for 2024 Lok Sabha elections said.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said the disqualification of Rahul is a “vendetta battle” and exposed how opposition leaders are living in a state of Emergency while BJP leaders are living in “Amrit Kaal”.

Besides Congress leaders and their Chief Ministers, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan termed Rahul’s disqualification as a “violent attack on democracy” by the Sangh Parivar. Vijayan said the “hasty” disqualification of Gandhi was the “latest chapter” of the Sangh Parivar assault on democracy. “Suppressing dissent by force is a fascist method,” Vijayan said in a statement.

Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray questioned the state of democracy in the country while CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said, “It’s condemnable that the BJP is now using the criminal defamation route to target opposition leaders and disqualify them as done with Rahul now.”

Alleging that Rahul’s disqualification is the official announcement of the “death of democracy”, RJD leader and a Rajya Sabha member Manoj Jha said there is no bigger blot on parliamentary democracy in history than this.

Samajwadi Party and BSP too termed Rahul’s disqualification unfortunate, and said if MPs were to lose their membership on such matters of defamation, then 70 per cent of parliamentarians will lose their membership.

Former Congress leaders and Ministers in the UPA, Kapil Sibal and Ashwani Kumar, said action against Rahul raises the larger question of whether the right to represent people can be taken away upon first conviction without even a single appeal in a higher court.