Rahul Gandhi, the leader of Indian National Congress (INC, the main Opposition Party) was convicted in a criminal defamation case in a Surat court on March 23, 2023. He was also disqualified as a Member of Parliament, and would not be eligible to contest elections for eight years, unless the verdict by the local court in Surat gets changed by a higher court. Announcing his disqualification, the Lok Sabha (the Lower House of the Indian Parliament) Secretariat stated in a notification that it was effective from March 23, the date of his conviction. “Consequent upon his conviction by the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Surat… Rahul Gandhi, Member of Lok Sabha, representing the Wayanad Parliamentary Constituency of Kerala, stands disqualified from the membership of Lok Sabha from the date of his conviction i.e. March 23, 2023,” the Secretariat stressed on March 24.
The court’s decision might have impressed supporters of Prime Minister Narndra Modi‘s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); however, sensible people have expressed serious concern over the recent downfall of Indian Democracy. In contemporary India, Opposition leaders no more enjoy their Right to criticise the Government. No one knows the real expression of respect, and when the usage of any particular word causes defamation. Nearly four decades ago, the Oppositions had used various words while campaigning against late Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India and father of Rahul Gandhi. Even leaders of the ruling BJP still use various unparliamentary words to attack the Opposition parties. Unfortunately, history takes a different course in these cases. However, the judgement of a court may be appealed to a higher court under the rules of Jurisdiction. The Surat court, too, granted a month’s time before executing Rahul Gandhi’s sentence, subject to those proceedings. There was neither any compulsion to disqualify him as a Member of Parliament, nor normal logic. Perhaps, the all powerful Government of India was in a hurry to punish Gandhi.
Political analysts are of the opinion that Radical and Intolerant Politics has caused this hurriedness. PM Modi’s BJP does not believe in Tolerance, instead it considers tolerance as a weakness. For the current ruling party, bravery lies in suppressing the voice of Oppositions. Rahul Gandhi’s voice is not only strong, but also consistent and clear. Both inside and outside the Parliament, he has been directly questioning and criticising Prime Minister Modi and his Government over various sensitive issues for long, apart from demanding clarifications. In other words, Gandhi has been performing his duty as an Opposition politician. Hence, his stature as an Opposition leader has steadily increased across the South Asian nation in recent times. Immediately after the local court in Surat announced its verdict, the BJP started taking advantage of the situation to corner Gandhi.
Experts believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is afraid of Rahul Gandhi’s emergence as a strong Opposition leader. After the disqualification of Gandhi as a Member of Parliament, the unanimous protests launched by all the Opposition parties have given a different dimension to this fear factor. No one knows how long the protests will last. However, this is not just about the number of protesters. Instead, it has a larger Ethical dimension. In India, the ruling party does not care about Ethics at all, but only about elections. The BJP has seemingly realised that Rahul Gandhi recently gained a high moral ground in the realm of Democratic Politics and it may have implications for Electoral Politics, as well. In fact, Opposition parties have practically put aside their differences and come together to condemn the authoritarian character of the PM for the first time in nearly nine years of Modi’s regime. This harmony is based on a moral solidarity, and PM Modi and his party have rightly realised this. Hence, their anxiety and anger are so evident.
The constant and active efforts of Rahul Gandhi to tear off the ruler’s mask are incomparable. If the Opposition leaders can accept this fact, then there shall be a new possibility of solidarity among the parties in Opposition. This possibility is essential to protect Indian Democracy. If this collective struggle against the intolerant authoritarianism of the ruling party cannot be resisted, then the future of Democracy in India shall be in doubt.
This does not mean that Rahul Gandhi should be accepted as the future Prime Minister of India. Some Opposition parties may not accept him as the prime ministerial contender. The Congress Party, too, needs to understand this fact. Rahul Gandhi’s recent actions and behaviour suggest that he has taken a moral stance, which is far more important than Rahul Gandhi as an individual. Gandhi’s attempt to rescue Democracy from Authoritarianism and bring it back to the moral realm of Liberal Pluralism can be the real answer to the Modi Regime. Rahul Gandhi has become the catalyst of that enthusiasm in India. The rest shall depend on the wisdom and discretion of the Opposition camp.
One would have to wait to see how the Congress Party deals with the situation, and what shall be the decision of the higher court on this issue. However, the important thing is whether the parties in Opposition shall be able to read the writing on the wall. When a power-hungry ruler becomes authoritarian, the Opposition has nothing but to show solidarity in an attempt to safeguard Democracy. So far, there has been no solidarity among the parties in Opposition in India. Perhaps, it is the right time to change the scenario. Virtually all the Opposition parties have condemned the disqualification of Gandhi as a Member of Parliament. It seems that the possibility of solidarity among Oppositions increases when misrule goes out of control.
Big Brothers Are Watching
The US has stressed that it is closely monitoring the criminal defamation case against Gandhi and disqualification of his membership of the Indian Parliament. Referring to the case related to Gandhi, the Joe Biden Administration has said that Freedom of Expression, the Rule of Law and the Independence of the Judiciary are the main foundations of Democracy.
Vedant Patel, the Principal Deputy Spokesperson of the US State Department, stated on March 27 that Washington DC engaged with New Delhi on a shared commitment to democratic values. Speaking at a press conference, he said: “Respect for the Rule of Law and Judicial Independence is a cornerstone of any democracy, and we are watching Gandhi’s case in Indian courts.“
When asked whether the US would interfere in India’s internal matter, Patel replied: “I don’t have any specific engagements to read out… but as I am sure you know some of these covered this Department for some time, it is normal and standard for us to engage with members of Opposition parties in any country where we have bilateral relationships, but I don’t have any specific engagement to read out.“
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