India's opposition leader Rahul Gandhi said on Saturday he would continue to defend democracy after attributing the loss of his parliamentary seat to his calls for an investigation into Prime Minister Narendra Modi's links to a tycoon accused of fraud.
Rahul Gandhi was banned from the Indian parliament on Friday due to his prison sentence for defamation, after a remark made during the 2019 election campaign in the western state of Gujarat - where the prime minister is from.
Mr. Modi's government is regularly accused of using justice to target and muzzle its critics. Mr Gandhi's ousting comes at a time when Mr Modi's relationship with one of the country's most powerful industrialists is in question.
The Congress party accuses Mr Modi of encouraging the rapid rise of Gautam Adani, allowing the billionaire, also from Gujarat, to win contracts unfairly and avoid proper scrutiny.
His group has lost up to around $120 billion in value since the release of a report by US investment group Hindenburg Research on January 24, alleging "brazen stock manipulation" and "decades-long accounting fraud". ".
"Please understand why I was disqualified" as a member of the Lok Sabha (lower house), he told reporters. "I was disqualified because the Prime Minister (...) is afraid of the next speech that will come on Adani."
“I am here defending the democratic voice of the Indian people,” Mr. Gandhi added. "I am not afraid of these threats."
Mr Gandhi was sentenced to two years in prison on Thursday but was released on bail the same day after his lawyers announced their intention to appeal.
However, his conviction rendered him ineligible, no longer allowing him to continue to sit in the lower house of parliament, parliament said in a memo on Friday.
Mr Gandhi, 52, is the figurehead of the Congress Party, a political movement that once dominated Indian politics but has now shrunk considerably, having struggled to compete with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Mr. Modi and his nationalism which has seduced the Hindu majority of the country.
During the 2019 election campaign, Rahul Gandhi said that "all thieves have Modi as their surname", a remark that led to his conviction and which was seen as an insult directed at Mr Modi, who then won the election hands down.
Members of the government also argued that the remark was an insult to all people with the surname Modi, a patronymic associated with the lower rungs of the traditional caste hierarchy in India.
In recent years, lawsuits have repeatedly been filed against opposition figures and institutions seen as critical of Mr Modi's government.
Mr. Gandhi is facing other defamation charges in the country and a money laundering case that has been trudging through India's legal system for more than a decade.
Rahul Gandhi "clearly pays the price" for speaking out "without fear", Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters on Friday, denouncing "the systematic and repetitive castration of democratic institutions by the ruling party ".
03/25/2023 10:58:38 - New Delhi (AFP) - © 2023 AFP