India expels Modi critic Rahul Gandhi from parliament

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian opposition leader and fierce critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was expelled from parliament on Friday, a day after a court found him guilty of defamation and sentenced him to two years jail time for mocking Modi’s surname in an election speech.

The actions against Rahul Gandhi, the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister, have been widely condemned by opponents of Modi as the latest assault on democracy and free speech by a ruling government seeking to crush the dissent. Gandhi’s withdrawal from politics has dealt a blow to the opposition party he led ahead of next year’s national elections.

A local court in Modi’s home state of Gujarat convicted Gandhi on Thursday over a 2019 speech in which he asked, “Why do all thieves have Modi as their surname?” Gandhi then referred to three well-known and unrelated Modis in his speech: a runaway Indian diamond tycoon, a cricket executive banned from the Indian Premier League tournament and the Prime Minister.

Under Indian law, a criminal conviction and jail term of two years or more are grounds for expulsion from parliament, but Gandhi is out on bail for 30 days and plans to appeal.

Opposition lawmakers rallied to his defense on Friday, calling his expulsion another low for India’s constitutional democracy.

Modi’s critics say India’s democracy – the world’s largest with nearly 1.4 billion people – has retreated since he came to power in 2014. They accuse his populist government of being preoccupied with pursuing a Hindu nationalist agenda , a charge his administration has denied.

“I fight for the voice of this country. I am ready to pay any price,” Gandhi, 52, wrote on Twitter.

Gandhi’s family, beginning with his great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, produced three prime ministers. Two of them – his grandmother Indira Gandhi and his father, Rajiv Gandhi – were assassinated in office.

Gandhi projected himself as the main challenger to the Modi government, but his Indian National Congress party performed poorly in the last two general elections. He has tried to woo voters in recent months by raising corruption issues and accusing the Modi government of tarnishing India’s reputation for democracy.

Late last year, Gandhi led a popular “unity march” across large swaths of India, rallying crowds against the Modi government and the Hindu nationalism that swept under his leadership.

Opponents accuse Modi’s political party of increasing hate speech and violence against Muslims and other minorities in recent years. Modi’s rule has coincided with growing attacks on the press and freedom of expression, the jailing of activists and a crackdown on dissent.

Modi’s party has denied the charges and his supporters say the Gujarat state tea seller’s son has improved the standing of the nation.

Gandhi also attacked the government over Modi’s closeness to business tycoon Gautam Adani, who in January was accused by a US research and investment firm betting against his company of engaging in fraud and money manipulation. stock prices. Prior to his expulsion, Gandhi had called for an investigation into Adani’s business, whose market value had plummeted by tens of billions of dollars. Modi’s party says it has no connection with Adani.

If Gandhi’s conviction is not stayed or overturned by a higher court, he faces the risk of not being able to stand in the 2024 national elections, although some analysts say a possible return to politics is possible.

“It could actually also give impetus to the opposition to finally reduce their differences and come together in a united fight against Modi,” said Arti Jerath, a political commentator.

Gandhi’s political party said the sentencing, which they plan to appeal, was “cowardly and dictatorial” and leaders warned his deportation could cause long-term damage to the country.

“This is politics without gloves and it bodes ill for our democracy,” said Shashi Tharoor, an MP from Gandhi’s party.

NEW DELHI, INDIA – FEBRUARY 25: Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their joint press statement at Hyderabad House on February 25, 2023 in New Delhi, India. Olaf Scholz arrived in New Delhi for a two-day visit, accompanied by senior government officials and a high-level business delegation. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Modi’s critics point to his party’s attacks on opposition leaders, rights groups and media critical of the government.

Indian tax authorities last month raided BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai weeks after a documentary critical of Modi aired. The documentary examined his role in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat, where he was chief minister at the time. More than 1,000 people have been killed in the violence.

Modi has denied allegations that authorities under his leadership authorized and even encouraged bloodshed, and the Supreme Court said it found no evidence to prosecute him.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst, said the ruling party had become increasingly angered by Gandhi’s corruption accusations and that his line of attack against the Adani group “proved too much for the ruling party”. .

Gandhi’s expulsion also came after fourteen political parties filed a petition in India’s highest court alleging Modi’s government was engaged in politically motivated financial crime investigations against opposition leaders. The Supreme Court said it would consider the petition in the first week of April.


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