Why Rahul Gandhi’s expulsion from parliament could backfire


For the first time since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power nine years ago, India’s opposition parties appear united in opposing the existential threat posed to the country’s democratic structure and norms by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) .

The immediate cause of this sense of urgency is the expulsion of Rahul Gandhi, the leading leader of the largest opposition party, the Indian National Congress, from parliament after a lower court in Gujarat state convicted him of a three-year libel case. case. The court sentenced him to two years in prison.

The way the case was handled, the sentencing and the sentence have been heavily criticized by many legal experts. But the opposition’s unity also stems from the realization that Gandhi’s disqualification from parliament is a bold signal from the government that it can, to some extent, paralyze political forces that challenge it democratically. The message is clear: it is high time for the opposition to join forces.

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In India’s multi-party democracy, many of the opposition leaders and groups who have almost unanimously criticized the move against Gandhi are rivals in several states. That they came together is hugely significant. They can see that the action against Gandhi is the culmination of steps taken by the Modi government to humiliate and discredit a range of opposition leaders, portraying them as criminals in the eyes of the people who use the judiciary and investigative agencies.

Before Gandhi, many leaders of his party and other political parties have been prosecuted and some of them even imprisoned. For days they had to appear together before research agencies. The willingness of the judiciary to largely play along with the government’s crackdown has put further strain on the opposition, and even Indian democracy itself.

This moment marks the complete collapse of all bourgeois norms and bipartisanship that hold parliamentary politics together. In several cases, when Modi’s BJP has lost elections in states, it has still seized power by overthrowing governments or breaking up rival political parties. It has cornered a gigantic chunk of election funding through an opaque election bond arrangement that requires the identities of donors and who they give money to not be made public.

To be clear, democracy is not just about ruling and opposition parties. It is about the institutional balance that keeps state power in check. In India, this institutional mechanism has been conquered by the BJP. The election commission, the judiciary and other institutions that should be autonomous have surrendered to the government or are acting largely on its behalf.

The corporate sector seems to be largely behind the BJP. Other civil society organizations that used to watch over the state apparatus have broken other laws.

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Against this background, the Modi government still had no answers to Gandhi’s questions about the alleged support it had provided to industrialist Gautam Adani whose wealth rose from $7 billion in 2014 to more than $100 billion early this year.

Gandhi’s claim that Modi and Adani have a special relationship was boosted by a January report from US-based short-seller Hindenburg, who accused Adani of dubious and fraudulent practices, even calling it one of the biggest crimes in recent times. called history. Adani has denied the report’s allegations, but the markets’ verdict is clear: The value of his companies’ shares has plummeted and his equity has crashed.

Gandhi has since doubled down on his claims that Modi favored Adani. He used parliament’s platform to attack the government. The government refused to heed the opposition’s demand for a parliamentary inquiry into the Adani affair, leaving the parliament deadlocked.

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Meanwhile, Gandhi went on a lecture tour of the United Kingdom, where his speeches and interactions painted a bleak picture of India’s contemporary political landscape. He called Indian democracy a common good for the whole world and said its death would be a global loss.

The BJP, aided by a smooth major media in India, painted these comments as an insult to India on foreign soil. But when Gandhi asked for permission to respond to these allegations in parliament, the speaker of the house refused to give him the chance to do so. And then came this conviction and expulsion.

By working together, the opposition can make their constituents understand the serious threat facing Indian democracy. Their biggest obstacle is India’s major media, which act as the mouthpiece of the ruling party and continue to misinform the public, discredit opposition parties and incite hatred among Hindus against Muslims, Christians and intellectuals. The challenge for the opposition is to get the facts across to the people, remove the cobweb of disinformation and disinformation created by major media and bring together India’s myriad communities.

It won’t be easy. The start of the holy month of Ramadan has seen attacks on Islamic religious rituals by gangs linked to the ruling party. Christians’ prayers are routinely disrupted, their homes and churches attacked. The state of Maharashtra has seen dozens of rallies calling for violence against Muslims in the past three months. Indian society is in an unprecedented state of fragmentation.

Still, the task of bringing Indian people together, while difficult, is not impossible. It requires an honest investment by opposition party leaders in the politics of togetherness, without which democracy becomes meaningless. Having traveled nearly 4,000 km (2,485 miles) with this message of unity through his recent Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul Gandhi has acquired the moral authority to undertake this task.

In some ways, his expulsion from parliament could free him from parliamentary obligations and give him the chance to start a conversation with the people on the street about the state of the country. The government’s relentless attack on him shows its fear of Gandhi, who doesn’t mince words when he takes on Modi.

But in the end, this moment is not – and shouldn’t be – about Gandhi. The next step, a more challenging one, will be for Gandhi to shift the focus from himself to the threat to the democratic rights of the people of India.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial view of Al Jazeera.

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