The Congress on Friday (March 24) termed Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from Lok Sabha a “political vendetta,” launched to silence voices questioning the central government and one that reflects the “repetitive emasculation of institutions by the ruling party and the strangulation of democracy.”
Reacting to his disqualification, Rahul said he is ready to pay the price for speaking up.
“I am fighting for the voice of my country. I am ready to pay the price,” he tweeted.
मैं भारत की आवाज़ के लिए लड़ रहा हूं।
मैं हर कीमत चुकाने को तैयार हूं।
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 24, 2023
‘Paying price for success of BJY’
“It is clear that Bharat Jodo Yatra has rattled the BJP. It knows that the Bharat Jodo Yatra has not only revitalised the Congress organisation but has given a new narrative to the country. This disqualification is a price that Rahul has had to pay for the success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra,” Congress leader Jairam Ramesh told reporters at a press briefing that he jointly held with Abhishek Singhvi on Friday (March 24).
Also read: Rahul’s disqualification: How is an MP disqualified and what are recourse options
Ramesh said, Rahul has been vociferous against the policies and politics of the Modi government since 2014 and is now paying the price for it.
“He has been made to pay the price also for raising his voice against Adani’s maha ghotala (major scam). They expunged most of his speech made in Parliament, following which over 16 Opposition parties united to demand a JPC in the scam. We will seek legal remedy but this isn’t just a legal issue, it is fundamentally a political issue. This disqualification is the consequence of politics of vendetta and intimidation,” he said adding that the neither Rahul nor the Congress is intimidated by the disqualification.
Speaking about the legal steps that Congress will take next, Singhvi said the party as per normal procedure will appeal before a Sessions Court and explore all legal remedies available.
Will seek stay if bypolls are declared: Singhvi
Asked by reporters on the possibility of the Election Commission (EC) declaring bypolls in Wayanad, now that its MP has been disqualified, Singhvi said “we will not be surprised if they announce a bypoll in haste. But there have been stays on by-election given by the courts, so we will seek the remedy when the time comes.”
On whether Rahul will be able to contest the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Singhvi said 2024 is still far away, and the Congress is confident of getting a stay on the conviction much before that.
“Once the appeal is filed, I don’t think it should take more than a few weeks for any reasonable court to decide the matter. If the stay is given, the foundation for disqualification goes so does the ban on contesting polls for the next six years (following the two-year period of sentence).”
Attempts to gag free speech
Singhvi said the case should make leaders of all political parties wary as it “signifies the systematic, repetitive emasculation of institutions by the ruling party and the strangulation of democracy itself.”
“We know defamation is an exception to free speech, but over the last few years we have had repeated examples of unthinkable assaults on freedom of speech and more importantly freedom after speech. After the speech you are told that you will be visited upon by worse consequences… We all know that Rahul Gandhi has been speaking out fearlessly both inside and outside Parliament, without any inhibition. Clearly this government is rattled because he speaks with facts and figures on demonetisation, China and GST,” Singhvi said.
He said the government, afraid of Rahul’s consistent and aggressive questioning now is “finding all means to throttle him.”
“He comes back from abroad and his speeches abroad become the basis of action against him inside Parliament. He speaks in Parliament and he is referred to the privileges committee. A remarkably new ground is found by this government saying a precondition to him speaking in Parliament is he must first apologise for his comments abroad. All of this is part of a pattern to divert attention from real, burning issues before the nation today and to create a fear psychosis among those who dare to question this government,” he said.
A dig at courts
Speaking about the legal part of the issue, Singhvi said the alacrity with which the disqualification was announced – in a span of 24 hours – gave away the “premeditated” nature of the case.
“A few months ago when an immediate by-election was to be announced because of disqualification of a MLA in Uttar Pradesh (Azam Khan), the Supreme Court stayed the by-election,” he said citing an example.
He said while a magistrate under Section 202 of CrPC is mandatorily obliged to conduct a preliminary enquiry to determine if he has the jurisdiction to proceed with trial, the same was not done in Rahul’s case in Surat, Gujarat even though the comment (for which he has been convicted) was made in Kolar, Karnataka.
Also read: Rahul Gandhi disqualified from Lok Sabha; ‘not intimidated,’ says Kharge
“In 2021, Rahul had appeared in court to record his statement. In March 2022, the complainant files an application against Rahul for personal appearance by a firm magistrate following which the complainant rushes to the High Court seeking a stay on his own complaint perhaps because the climate is not suitable to him. After a period, on February 16 this year, the complainant seeks a vacation of the stay he had himself obtained. Now the high court vacates the stay and the complainant goes back to the trial court by which time the earlier magistrate has been changed and we now have this verdict. Though the conviction is by a court, the disqualification has to be by the President of India and before disqualifying the President has to take an opinion from the Election Commission (EC). In Lok Prahari judgment, the Supreme Court has noted the EC’s observation that EC need not go to President in case of a conviction but the EC has not ruled on this observation,” Singhvi said.
Also read: Rahul’s disqualification lawful, not political; is Cong questioning court?: BJP leaders