Parliament announces the ousting of opposition leader Gandhi

Parliament announces the ousting of opposition leader Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi

The prominent politician can only stand in the upcoming parliamentary elections if he is successful in the appeals process.

(Photo: AP)

Bangkok Criticism of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi puts the country’s most important opposition politician on the political end: Rahul Gandhi, one of the leaders of the opposition Congress Party, was disqualified as a member of parliament on Friday, according to the parliament.

The ouster from the lower house came a day after a court in Modi’s home state of Gujarat sentenced the politician to prison in a libel trial.

The judgment is not yet final, but the parliamentary exclusion applies with immediate effect. A year before the next parliamentary elections, the opposition sees the process as an attempt to silence one of the government’s harshest critics. Gandhi can only stand for election if he is successful in the appeals process. In view of the development, his party accuses Modi of increasingly authoritarian politics – and sees political freedoms in the country, which likes to boast of being the world’s largest democracy, in decline.

Gandhi is one of the country’s best-known political dynasties: the 52-year-old is the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, grandson of India’s only female head of government, Indira Gandhi, and son of India’s sixth prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi himself led the Congress Party until 2019, when he resigned because of his party’s electoral defeat. For the election next year, however, he was traded again as a possible challenger to Modi.

Opposition sees proceedings as politically motivated

The current dispute revolves around statements he made in 2019. At an election campaign event, the prominent politician asked publicly: “Why do all thieves have Modi as their last name?” He was playing on the Indian businessmen Nirav who were not related to the head of government Modi and Lalit Modi, who are accused of financial crimes. Both fled justice abroad.

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A high-ranking party friend of Prime Minister Modi saw the speech as a damage to his reputation, which denigrated everyone with the name Modi – and complained. A court in the western Indian metropolis of Surat agreed with him and sentenced Gandhi to two years in prison. He was released on bail for 30 days and has the opportunity to appeal. Several Indian legal experts rated the verdict as critical, since in their view people with the surname Modi did not represent a cohesive group that could be slandered as a whole.

Gandhi emphasized that his aim was not to defame anyone, but to denounce corruption. The trial against Gandhi, which had been paused for more than a year, got underway again in February – shortly after the congress politician had called the head of government because of his Links to billionaire Gautam Adani, who is facing fraud allegations, have been heavily criticized had.

His party friends see the action against Gandhi, who is the party’s best-known face, as clearly politically motivated. The two-year prison sentence is exactly the threshold that allows a deputy to be disqualified. “If things continue like this, autocracy and dictatorship will soon take hold in this country,” said Mallikarjun Kharge, President of the Congress Party. Supporters and allies of Gandhi held placards reading “Democracy in Danger” near Parliament on Friday.

Opposition, media and non-governmental organizations see voices critical of the government India increasingly under pressure. In February, tax investigators raided the Indian offices of the British broadcaster BBC shortly after it aired a widely acclaimed documentary critical of Modi.

accounts from Amnesty International frozen

The film’s distribution in India was banned by Modi’s Ministry of Information. In Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom rankings, India is only 150th out of 180 countries surveyed.

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Parts of civil society also no longer feel safe in Modi’s India: the end of 2020 saw Amnesty International forced to cease operations in the country. The Indian bank accounts of the human rights organization were frozen after criticism of the Modi government.

In addition to Rahul Gandhi, other political opponents of Modi have recently been targeted by the judiciary. In February, a leader of the Aam Aadmi party, which governs the capital Delhi, was arrested. In this case, too, the party spoke of a politically motivated process aimed at Modi critics. Modi’s governing party BJP rejected the allegations.

In the case of Gandhi, Modi’s allies also believe that the harsh consequences for the statements criticized are justified. “It’s one thing to question government policies, that would be a healthy debate,” said party leader Jagat Prakash Nadda. Instead, Gandhi insulted a section of Indians who happen to have the same last name as Prime Minister Modi. The Congress Party has shown that it does not follow the rules of discourse.

Because of Modi’s continued popularity, his re-election is considered very likely. But Gandhi also wants to continue to stand up to him outside of parliament, as a party spokesman emphasized: “Rahul Gandhi will not stop asking difficult questions and uncovering the active role of this government in cronyism.”

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