Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge and Opposition MPs wearing black attire take out a protest march from Parliament complex towards Vijay Chowk over the Adani Group issue, in New Delhi on Monday Image Credit: ANI

Rahul Gandhi, leader of India’s principal opposition party Congress, changed his Twitter bio to say “disqualified MP” post his shockingly speedy expulsion from the Lok Sabha days after he was convicted in a defamation case and awarded the maximum sentence of two years in jail.

Not only was Gandhi unseated but, also asked to vacate his home of nearly 20 years — the bungalow allotted to him as Member of Parliament — within a month. This is what vendetta looks like — plain and simple. Gandhi plans to vacate before the deadline — he is beyond government homes says a leader close to him.

Even those who don’t support Gandhi are shocked at the lightening speed with which Gandhi was unseated. Several senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders who I spoke to for this SWAT ANALYSIS were unequivocal that this was a step too far for the world’s largest democracy in its treatment of an important opposition leader.

Opposition joins ranks

Gandhi is a curious case. A lack of feral political hunger, a lack of political appetite for power and its accoutrements of office — distinguishes him from other opposition leaders. Despite this the entire opposition including the Aam Aadmi party (AAP) and the Trinamool Congress are backing Gandhi because of the existential fear that they could be next in line.

Fourteen opposition parties have also moved the Supreme Court asking the Court to take cognisance of the misuse of the investigative agencies the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Not only was Gandhi unseated but, also asked to vacate his home of nearly 20 years — the bungalow allotted to him as Member of Parliament — within a month. This is what vendetta looks like — plain and simple.

- Swati Chaturvedi

Pulling no punches

Says a senior opposition leader, “the realisation is slowly sinking in the BJP and the investigative agencies are joined at the hip. And, we have to do a hard reset in our relationship with each other or no party or leader will survive this multiple vendetta”.

Gandhi’s disqualification has certainly frightened political India. On his part, Gandhi welcomed the support and said we will all work together.

He was aggressive and pulled no punches at his press conference saying that his disqualification was because he would have used the pulpit of the Parliament to expose controversial billionaire Gautam Adani and his close links with the ruling party.

A combative Gandhi also attacked a journalist saying he should come with a BJP badge and not pretend to be a member of the press.

Rahul Gandhi after being disqualified from parliament
Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi addresses a press conference after he was expelled from parliament. The conviction and expulsion were widely condemned by political parties in India, who say democracy and free speech are under assault (AP Photo) Image Credit: AP

An inflection point

So has an inflection point come for the opposition with the disqualification? A realisation has definitely sunk in that they have to unite to taken on a hegemonic BJP or they will perish separately.

Even the Congress is realising that it will have to soften its stand and take on the concerns of the regional parties. One of the opposition sticking points was the looming, overarching role for Gandhi but his disqualification has surprisingly made him the glue that currently holds the opposition together.

Gandhi has definitely gained political stature post his gruelling Bharat Jodo Yatra. He was accessible to thousands of people and Congress workers during his Yatra and his authentic self made people across India realise that he was no pushover, as the BJP would make people believe.

An ideological battle

Gandhi is locked in an ideological battle with the Sangh parivar. A senior BJP leader told me, “Not in your era but ours — we still remember Jaiprakash Narayan with trepidation, some of us think that by this last action of disqualifying him we have created a potential JP 2.0.

A lot depends on how Gandhi handles the unexpected opportunity that has come his way. Nobody could have predicted even a week ago that Gandhi would get the entire opposition united over a perceived injustice to him.

It is now up to him to make common cause with Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, Navin Patnaik, Arvind Kejriwal and other prominent members of the opposition.

Rahul will have to display tact (not attacking Veer Savarkar at every opportunity as it upset Uddhav Thackeray and his party) and leadership. The Gandhi scion must focus on the larger picture of defeating an ideological opponent at the cost of personal gain.

Is Rahul up to it? Watch this space.