Estimated reading time 3 minutes 3 Min

India’s opposition protests leader Gandhi’s conviction

Congress party members in India have launched protests against the government in several states after leader Rahul Gandhi was sentenced to two years in jail.

March 25, 2023
By Rupam Jain
25 March 2023

Members of India’s main opposition Congress party have held protests in some parts of the country over leader Rahul Gandhi’s conviction for defamation, a day after a magistrate’s court sentenced Gandhi to a two-year jail term.

Congress party officials have described the judgment as politically motivated and blamed the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“The BJP is fearful about the rise of Rahul Gandhi and he poses a direct threat to Modi government,” said Pradip Bhattacharya, a Congress party lawmaker from West Bengal state.

BJP president JP Nadda dismissed the charges, adding Gandhi had insulted a section of Indians who share the same surname as Prime Minister Modi.

“It is one thing to question government regarding the policies – that would be considered a healthy debate – but clearly the Congress has never followed such rules,” he told Reuters.

Law Minister Kiren Rijiju told reporters outside parliament the law was very clear and Gandhi stood to lose his membership following the court judgment.

Gandhi’s supporters held protests outside Congress party offices and in public spaces in northern Jammu city and Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat states, witnesses and news reports said.

Gandhi, 52, was found guilty over a 2019 speech in which he referred to thieves as having the surname Modi. 

He made the comment while campaigning ahead of the last general election to debunk the prime minister’s economic policies.

Gandhi was convicted by a court in the western state of Gujarat, which also granted him bail and suspended the sentence for one month.

That gave Gandhi time to appeal but he faces immediate disqualification from parliament following the conviction.

Two senior Congress leaders told Reuters Gandhi would respect the local court’s verdict and would not attend parliament.

“It is a fact that his membership stands disqualified for now but we will challenge the conviction in the court to ensure he can attend parliament proceedings,” said a federal lawmaker who is also a Congress leader.

Officials in the Congress party said they are looking to regional opposition parties to galvanise political support against the verdict.

Gandhi has already received support from the Aam Aadmi Party that rules Delhi. 

Two of the party’s top leaders are in jail on what they call trumped-up charges.

“We have differences with the Congress, but it is not right to implicate Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case like this,” party chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

“It is the job of the public and the opposition to ask questions. We respect the court but disagree with the decision.”

Members of 12 opposition parties met Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge on Friday but it was not clear if they would align to protest the court verdict.

The office of India’s president confirmed Congress leaders had sought a meeting with President Draupadi Murmu to protest the conviction.

More in Top Stories