India’s main opposition figure, Rahul Gandhi, was expelled from Parliament after receiving a two-year jail sentence for defamation on Thursday. His supporters claimed this was an attempt by the ruling party to silence its critics. Gandhi, who represented the Wayanad parliamentary constituency of Kerala, was disqualified from membership due to his recent conviction. The conviction resulted from a case related to his 2019 speech in which he mentioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi and two fugitive businessmen with the surname Modi while speaking of corruption. The case was filed by Purnesh Modi, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) lawmaker in western Gujarat state. Gandhi had pleaded not guilty. Removing Gandhi from politics delivered a significant blow to his Indian National Congress party before the next year’s national elections.
Gandhi is out on bail for 30 days and plans to appeal, stating he is fighting for the voice of his country and is ready to pay any price. His lawyer said that Gandhi did not intend to defame anyone in the community. He aimed to expose the misdeeds of the prime minister.
The actions against Gandhi, the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister, were widely condemned by Modi opponents as the latest assault against democracy and free speech by a ruling government seeking to crush dissent. Modi’s critics say that India’s democracy has been in retreat since he first came to power in 2014. They accuse his populist government of preoccupying itself with pursuing a Hindu nationalist agenda, a charge his administration has denied.