Rahul Gandhi, one of the last national figures standing in political opposition to prime minister Narendra Modi of India, was disqualified as a member of parliament on Friday, sending shockwaves across the country’s political scene and devastating the once-powerful Indian National Congress party Mr Gandhi leads.
Mr Gandhi was expelled from the lower house the day after a court in Gujarat, Mr Modi’s home state on the western coast of India, convicted him on a charge of criminal defamation. The charge stemmed from a comment he made on the campaign trail in 2019, characterising Mr Modi as one of a group of “thieves” named Modi – referring to two prominent fugitives with the same last name. Mr Gandhi received a two-year prison sentence, the maximum. He is out on 30 days’ bail.
Any jail sentence of two years or more is supposed to result in automatic expulsion from parliament, but legal experts had expected Mr Gandhi to have the chance to challenge his conviction. A notification signed by a parliamentary bureaucrat appointed by Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party on Friday stated that Mr Gandhi had been disqualified automatically by the conviction itself, according to the constitution of India.
“They are destroying the constitution, killing it,” said Srinivas Bhadravathi Venkata, president of the Indian National Congress Party’s youth wing. “The court gave Mr Gandhi 30 days to appeal against the order, and hardly 24 hours have passed since.”
Mr Gandhi said in a Twitter post on Friday: “I am fighting for the voice of this country. I am ready to pay any price.”
Mr Srinivas said the party will fight the expulsion, politically and legally. One of the party’s most prominent members, Shashi Tharoor, who like Mr Gandhi is a member of the lower house in the state of Kerala, said on Twitter that the action ending his tenure in parliament was “politics with the gloves off, and it bodes ill for our democracy.”
– This article originally appeared in The New York Times.