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March 23, 2023 10:36 pm

Gandhi Conviction Triggers Political Slugfest

New Delhi- Rahul Gandhi’s conviction in a 2019 criminal defamation case by a Surat court on Thursday triggered a political slugfest between the BJP and opposition parties, including AAP, which rallied behind the former Congress chief and accused the ruling party of “hatching a conspiracy to eliminate” its political opponents by prosecuting them.

The Congress claimed that the court verdict was “infirm, erroneous and unsustainable”, evoking a sharp reaction from the BJP which slammed it for its criticism of the order, asking whether the opposition party wants “complete freedom” for Gandhi to “abuse” others. The Congress also said that it would challenge the judgement in a higher court.

The court in Gujarat sentenced Gandhi to two years in the case filed against him over his “why all thieves have Modi surname” remarks. Gandhi, who was present in the court when the verdict was pronounced, reacted later by quoting Mahatma Gandhi in a tweet in Hindi about truth and non-violence.

“My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God, (and) non-violence is the means to get it. — Mahatma Gandhi,” the Congress leader tweeted.

In a separate tweet, he paid tributes to freedom fighters Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru on their martyrdom day, saying they have learnt to fight fearlessly for the country holding on to truth and courage from these brave sons of Mother India.

With the court convicting the Congress leader and his disqualification from Lok Sabha becoming a possibility, party president Mallikarjun Kharge alleged that the BJP-led government wants to get him removed from the Lower House of Parliament through disqualification as he speaks the truth and exposes it.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the Gujarat trial court has given a 170-page judgement which is still subject to translation and the party is working towards filing an appeal against it in a higher court.

“We believe that this is full of errors and legally unsustainable conclusions. But make no mistake generally…all your (government’s) efforts to create a chilling effect, a throttling effect, strangulating effect on open, fearless speech relating to the public interest will not stop either Rahul Gandhi or the Congress party,” he told reporters at a press conference here.

In a tweet in Hindi, Kharge alleged that the “cowardly, dictatorial BJP government is incensed at Rahul Gandhi and Opposition because we are exposing their misdeeds and demanding a JPC.”

“Under its political bankruptcy, the Modi government sends police, ED and imposes cases on political speeches. We will appeal in the higher court,” he said and also alleged that “they kept changing judges”.

Launching a stinging attack, BJP leader and former law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad cautioned Gandhi, saying he will find himself facing “more troubles” if he doesn’t refrain from making defamatory remarks, while Union Minister Piyush Goyal asked the Congress leader to apologise for his series of “defamatory” comments.

Both the leaders also hit out at Kharge for questioning the court’s order by noting that several judges hearing the matter were changed.

“They should come out of their dynastic mindset and realise that no one is above the law,” Goyal told reporters, while Prasad accused Kharge of contempt of court at another presser.

It was “grossly unfair” on the part of Kharge to make such comments, Prasad said.

Asked whether Gandhi will be disqualified from Lok Sabha, Prasad cited the provisions made in the Representation of People Act in this regard and said it is for Speaker Om Birla to decide. “This is the Speaker’s decision. I don’t have to say anything about that,” he said.

Apart from the Congress leaders, several Chief ministers of non-BJP-ruled states, including Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu also expressed solidarity with Gandhi.

Hinting at a shift in his stance, Delhi chief minister and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal openly supported the Congress leader, saying “a conspiracy is being hatched to eliminate non-BJP leaders and parties by prosecuting them. We have differences with Congress, but it is not right to implicate Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case like this.”

The Congress and the AAP have in the past avoided taking each other’s side on various issues and the support for Gandhi has come amid Kejriwal’s efforts to forge an alliance of “like-minded” parties ahead of the Lok Sabha polls next year.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said the two-year sentence given to Rahul Gandhi is a “matter of concern for democracy”, and alleged that non-BJP governments and leaders were being made “victims of conspiracies”.

Expressing his solidarity, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin accused the BJP of “trampling of democratic rights” and said he spoke to “brother” Rahul Gandhi to convey his support.

“It’s highly deplorable & unprecedented that a leader like Thiru @RahulGandhi is convicted for a comment which he himself said was not made with a blameworthy mind,” Stalin tweeted.

Congress-ruled Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel hailed Rahul Gandhi as one fighting for truth who would not succumb to government pressure.

Baghel accused the BJP-led Centre of attempting to “threaten” and “suppress” constitutional institutions and said,”the court’s decision is before everyone and bail has also been granted. The fight will continue further.”

He also spoke of the barbs such as “Mir Jafar” used by the BJP leaders against Rahul Gandhi.

Meanwhile, sources said senior Congress leaders held a meeting after Gandhi’s return from Gujarat and discussed immediate legal remedies to be taken to challenge the Surat trial court verdict and get it stayed from a higher court.

They said a petition to challenge the order is being prepared and will be filed in the District and Sessions Court.

The sources also said that there was a difference of opinion on whether Gandhi should go to Parliament on Friday as he faces possible disqualification from the Lok Sabha as per the Supreme Court judgement of July 2013.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi, however, said that legal experts will examine the Surat court verdict against Rahul Gandhi and only after that the government will take a decision on the next step.

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