Rahul Gandhi disqualification queers political pitch - GulfToday

Rahul Gandhi disqualification queers political pitch

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s ardent desire to get Congress leader Rahul Gandhi out of the Lok Sabha was fulfiilled last week in an unexpected manner. But it is too early for it to rejoice. He appears set to emerge as a more formidable opponent outside Parliament than he was inside. The BJP’s strategists were working on a plan to suspend if not expel Gandhi on specious charges of working against the nation’s interest. As they were pursuing the matter in parliamentary forums, a judicial magistrate’s court in Surat, Gujarat, awarded him a two-year jail term in a defamation case filed by Purnesh Modi, a former BJP minister. The cause of action was a 2019 election   speech in Karnataka in which Rahul Gandhi clubbed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name with those of two other Modis, both of whom fled India after failing to repay bank loans. Why do scamsters have the name Modi, he had asked. Purnesh Modi  alleged that Gandhi had defamed all members of the Modi caste. The chief judicial magistrate upheld the charge and gave Gandhi the prescribed maximum  punishment of two years in jail.

Under an election-related law, an MP or MLA convicted and sentenced to a jail term of two years or more loses his seat and is disqualified from contesting elections for a further period of six years. When Parliament enacted the law, it had laid down a procedure to be followed for disqualification to take effect. The Supreme Court, in a judgment, ruled that upon conviction disqualification would follow automatically.

Since the court decision was in accord with the BJP’s wish, the Lok Sabha secretariat  lost no time in declaring Rahul Gandhi’s seat vacant.

The law provides Rahul Gandhi three chances to appeal against the magistrate court verdict – first to the sessions court, then to the High Court and finally to the Supreme Court. If the magistrate court verdict is stayed or overruled at any of the three stages, the disqualification as well as other follow-up measures will automatically abate.

Last January, Mohammed Faizal, a Nationalist Congress Party MP, was convicted, along with four others, by a court in Lakshadweep in a case of attempted murder and sentenced to 10 years in jail. Then, too, the Lok Sabha secretariat, acting hurriedly, declared his seat vacant. The Election Commission, also acting hurriedly, announced the date for a bye-election to fill the vacancy in the Lok Sabha. These hasty measures collapsed when the High court suspended the trial court judgement, pending a decision on Faizal’s appeal. This setback did not dissuade the Lok Sabha secretariat from rushing with a notification declaring Rahul Gandhi’s seat vacant. But the Election Commission had the good sense not to take any hurried step, which it would be forced to withdraw.

In retrospect, the Supreme Court decision providing for automatic disqualification upon conviction does not appear to be a well thought out one. It has put a tool in the hands of people in authority who are looking for ways to short-circuit the process. In a spirited response to his disqualification, Rahul Gandhi said the ruling party was trying to silence him as he was raising questions about Modi’s relations with Gautam Adani who is facing charges of stock exchange manipulation. Even if he was not in Parliament, he would pose questions to the Prime Minister, he added.

Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification and the reactions of the opposition parties to it have queered the political pitch in a manner the BJP may not have anticipated. The Congress party organised nationwide protests. Opposition leaders rushed to make common cause with Rahul Gandhi, viewing the action against him as an attack on the entire Opposition, not just one against him and his party. By targeting Rahul Gandhi personally, the BJP has unwittingly helped him to gain more acceptability among the Opposition parties than before.

The BJP singles out Rahul Gandhi and the Congress for attack as they are the only ones in the Opposition ranks with a nationwide appeal. But to pose an effective challenge to Modi, the Opposition parties need to convince the people that they can work together under a collective leadership.

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