Gandhi says disqualification is ‘politically motivated’

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Mr. Gandhi was found guilty of commenting on Prime Minister Modi’s title at an election rally

The leader of the opposition Indian Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, said that his resignation by Parliament was politically motivated.

India’s parliament on Friday stripped Gandhi of his status as an MP, a day after he was sentenced to two years in prison in a defamation case.

The court found him guilty over 2019 comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s title at a campaign rally.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party says his expulsion is in line with parliamentary rules.

A 2013 Supreme Court order states that a lawmaker who has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to two years or more in prison is disqualified from parliament with immediate effect.

“It makes no difference if you exclude me… exclude me for life… I will continue, I will not stop,” Mr. Gandhi said at a press briefing on Saturday.

Although India’s opposition parties don’t always agree on political issues, many of them have backed Mr. Gandhi on his exclusion. On Friday, 14 parties took to the Supreme Court, alleging that the federal government is abusing investigative agencies to target BJP opponents.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge alleged that the action against Mr. Gandhi was a result of his demand for a parliamentary inquiry to investigate allegations against the Adani group.

The mega group was accused of decades of “brazen” stock manipulation and accounting fraud by US-based short-selling firm Hindenburg Research earlier this year. The Adani Group denied allegations of financial fraud.

“My job, as I see it, is to defend the democratic nature of this country,” Mr. Gandhi said after being dismissed.

“This means defending the institutions of this country, this means defending the voice of the poor in this country, and this means telling people in this country the truth about people like Mr. Adani, who are basically taking advantage of the relationship they have with the prime minister.”

“I was disqualified because Prime Minister Narendra Modi is afraid of my next speech on Adani… I can see it in his eyes.”

Mr. Gandhi’s supporters say his disqualification is a sign of the weakness of India’s democratic system, and there are plans for more protests against the government in the coming days.

He will not be allowed to participate in the national elections scheduled for next year, unless his sentence is suspended or he is acquitted in the case.

But the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said the decision to remove Mr. Gandhi was in accordance with parliamentary laws, and criticized his party for questioning the verdict.

Union Labor Minister Bhupinder Yadav said Gandhi had insulted members of the caste grouping known as the Other Backward Classes (OBC) under which Modi’s name falls.

“Insulting any title is not freedom of speech,” he said.

But some experts have questioned the extent of Mr. Gandhi’s rule.

Goyojit Pal, assistant professor in the University of Michigan’s Department of Information, said it was “extremely unusual” that a first-time offender like Mr. Gandhi could be given the maximum possible prison sentence of two years.

“Both low-level politicians and parliamentarians in India are known to engage in extremist rhetoric on social media and in their public meetings. A conviction of this magnitude, as a result of removing Modi’s primary rival, is practically unheard of,” Professor Pal added.

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