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‘Will go to jail to save democracy:’ Kharge after Rahul Gandhi disqualified from Lok Sabha

Rahul was convicted, handed 2-yr jail sentence in criminal defamation case Thursday; as per SC verdict, convicted legislator with similar prison term is automatically disqualified.

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New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was disqualified from Lok Sabha Friday, a day after the Wayanad MP was convicted in a defamation case in Surat and handed a two-year prison term.

The party reacted immediately, with President Mallikarjun Kharge saying, “We will continue to fight. The strategy from here will be discussed within the party.”

The veteran leader added: “They (BJP) tried all ways to disqualify him. They don’t want to keep those who are speaking the truth but we will continue to speak the truth. We’ll continue to demand JPC (on the Adani-Hindenburg issue)). If needed, we’ll go to jail to save democracy.”

A notification from the Lok Sabha Secretariat Friday said the MP stood disqualified from the date of his conviction – 23 March – “in terms of the provisions of Article 102(1)[e] of the Constitution of India read with Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951”.

Incidentally, after Thursday’s conviction, Rahul stood automatically disqualified from Parliament, according to a Supreme Court judgment of 2013.

In the Lily Thomas versus Union of India case, the Supreme Court had ruled that “any MP, MLA or MLC who is convicted of a crime and given a minimum of 2 years’ jail loses membership of the House with immediate effect”.

The court had scrapped the Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, which allowed elected representatives three months to appeal against their conviction, calling it “unconstitutional”.

Shocked but resolute reactions started pouring in as soon as Rahul’s disqualification was announced.

Maharashtra party leader Prithviraj Chauhan said they had “suspected this as soon as the two years jail term was pronounced”. “This is essential to cancel anyone’s membership (of the House). They could have pronounced a 6-month or 1-year jail term but the 2 years’ term meant that they had a further plan and they did it today. I condemn this action. This shows how scared Narendra Modi is of Rahul Gandhi.”

Also read: Opposition holds protest march alleging ‘democracy in danger’, 30 MPs detained

‘Anti-democratic dictatorship of BJP government’

MP K.C. Venugopal said this was a clear case of “anti-democratic dictatorship of the BJP government”.

Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole said, “If someone is jailed for calling people ‘thieves’, we will call them dacoits from tomorrow – Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Mehul Choski, Vijay Mallya, Adani… They are looting the country, and its poor… we have the right within our democracy to oppose this loot.”

Rahul was convicted by a Surat court Thursday for a 2019 comment he made during the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. Referring to Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi, the Congress leader had said: “How come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?”

Mallikarjun Kharge said the BJP would continue to loot the country, and “we will have to keep our mouth shut”. ”Rahul Gandhi wrote a letter today, asking permission to speak but he was not allowed. If this continues, there will be autocracy and dictatorship in the country.”

Opposition leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said in Modi’s “New India”, Opposition leaders had become the prime target of the BJP. “While BJP leaders with criminal antecedents are inducted into the cabinet, Opposition leaders are disqualified for their speeches. Today, we have witnessed a new low for our constitutional democracy,” Banerjee said.

Banerjee’s party, the Trinamool Congress, was among 14 Opposition parties which approached the Supreme Court Friday, alleging the “arbitrary” use of central probe agencies against their leaders.

Bengal Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the country was witnessing the “politics of vendetta”. He said this move was a case of “retributive politics” because Rahul Gandhi was gaining popularity, especially in the wake of the Bharat Jodo Yatra. “… (this) was not digested by the Modi govt. This is a very cruel demonstration of an autocratic government,” he said.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Congress workers also took to the streets in the national capital to protest the disqualification of the Wayanad MP.

Rahul may have to vacate his government bungalow in Delhi

On Friday, a Lok Sabha Secretariat notification said Rahul stood disqualified from the date of his conviction – 23 March – “in terms of the provisions of Article 102(1)[e] of the Constitution of India read with Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951”.

The Secretariat also declared vacant Rahul’s constituency in Kerala’s Wayanad. The Election Commission can now announce a special poll for the seat. Rahul may also have to vacate his government bungalow in Delhi.

The Congress leader may not be able to fight elections for the next eight years. Section 8(3) of the Representation of People Act states that a person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years will be disqualified from the date of such conviction.

Further, the person will remain disqualified for a period of six years after serving his sentence. In Rahul’s case, this adds up to eight years.

In order to avoid this lengthy expulsion, Rahul will have to appeal against the conviction and get a stay on it.

The Congress leader is at present out on bail as the court has given him 30 days to appeal the verdict.

Congress MP and general secretary (communications) Jairam Ramesh on Friday said the party would “fight this battle both legally and politically”. “We will not be intimidated or silenced. Instead of a JPC into the PM-link Adani MahaMega Scam, Rahul Gandhi stands disqualified. Indian Democracy Om Shanti,” he said.

Meeting the media on Friday evening, Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi called the disqualification a “political issue because it signifies systematic, repetitive emasculation of democratic institutions by the ruling party”.

“It signifies the strangulation of democracy itself… defamation is an exception to free speech. But over the last several years, we have had repeated examples of unthinkable assaults on freedom of speech, more importantly on freedom after speech,” Singhvi added.

He said that after a speech, one is told that he will be visited with the worst possible consequences – “be it criminal, civil, incarceration, intimidation, harassment in every sphere of life”.

Also read: After Rahul conviction on ‘Modi surname,’ Renuka Chowdhury to sue PM over ‘Surpanakha’ remark


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