On Monday, India’s Parliament reinstated Rahul Gandhi, a prominent opposition leader, as a lawmaker, just three days after the country’s top court suspended his criminal defamation conviction related to his mockery of the prime minister’s surname.
This move to reintegrate him into Parliament is anticipated to bolster the opposition’s endeavor to confront the government led by Narendra Modi. The opposition aims to intensify its efforts in the lead-up to a no-confidence motion scheduled for this week, concerning the ongoing ethnic violence that has stirred Manipur, a northeastern state of India, for more than three months.
A vocal critic of Modi and a key contender in the 2024 elections, Gandhi was removed from Parliament following his conviction by a magistrate’s court in March. However, the Supreme Court intervened on Friday, temporarily halting his conviction as it delves into the details of Gandhi’s appeal before issuing a final verdict.
This decision from the court also implies that Gandhi will be eligible to participate in the upcoming general elections next year, unless a final court ruling goes against him.
The defamation case stemmed from comments Gandhi made during a 2019 election speech, where he quipped, “Why do all thieves have Modi as their surname?” He then referenced three unrelated Modis: an Indian diamond magnate who’s a fugitive, a cricket executive banned from the Indian Premier League, and the prime minister himself.
Purnesh Modi, a member of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat state (unrelated to the prime minister), filed the case against Gandhi.
Initially, Gandhi was sentenced to two years in prison, but his prison sentence was suspended by the court in April. Despite an upheld conviction by the Gujarat state High Court, he submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court last month.
The case against Rahul Gandhi, who is the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and a prominent figure in the dynastic Congress party, was widely criticized by opponents of Modi. They viewed it as another attempt by the government to suppress dissent and erode democratic values. The rapidity with which Gandhi was removed from Parliament surprised the Indian political landscape.
With a population of 1.4 billion, India holds the distinction of being the world’s most populous nation. However, critics of Modi argue that democracy has been on the decline since his assumption of power in 2014. They accuse his administration of pursuing a Hindu nationalist agenda, a charge the government refutes, asserting that its policies are beneficial to all citizens.
The Nehru-Gandhi lineage has produced two other prime ministers. Indira Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother, was assassinated while in office, and his father, Rajiv Gandhi, met a similar fate after his tenure as prime minister.