rahul gandhi
India's main opposition Congress party’s leader Rahul Gandhi holds a news conference after he was disqualified as a lawmaker by India's parliament on Friday, at party’s headquarter in New Delhi, India, March 25, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

Mumbai: Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi will appeal a two-year jail sentence in a defamation case brought against him by a lawmaker from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), local media reported on Sunday.

Gandhi, the 52-year-old scion of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty and leader of the Congress party, was found guilty of defamation by a court in the western state of Gujarat over comments he made in a speech in 2019.

Gandhi has filed a plea in the Surat sessions court against the magistrate order, the Indian Express newspaper reported, while a senior Congress party official, who declined to be named, told Reuters the court is scheduled to hear the plea on Monday.

Gandhi’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

India’s parliament disqualified Gandhi after sentencing as the law that governs elections in India mandates disqualification of any lawmaker who is “convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years”.

A lower court sentenced Gandhi on March 23 for two years in jail on charges of defamation.

Opposition politicians say Gandhi’s trial and the disqualification is the latest evidence of the government’s strong-arm tactics and follows investigations and legal troubles faced in recent months by other opposition parties.

Gandhi said on March 25 that he would not comment on his sentence as the matter was subjudice, but he said his disqualification from parliament was because he had asked Modi what he called “tough questions” over the PM’s relationship with Gautam Adani, founder of the Adani conglomerate.

The opposition critics accuse the government of giving undue favours to a business group led by billionaire tycoon Adani.

Shares of Adani group companies plunged after Hindenburg Research on Jan. 24 alleged that the Indian company had engaged in stock manipulation and used tax havens. It also said the group had unsustainable debt.

A day after Gandhi’s conviction, 14 political parties jointly petitioned the Supreme Court, saying opposition groups were being selectively targeted by federal investigative agencies. The court has agreed to hear the plea on April 5.

Congress readies road map to reap political returns of Rahul disqualification
The Congress has planned a month-long agitation programme after its leader Rahul Gandhi’s conviction and subsequent disqualification from Parliament.
Former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has made it clear that Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from the Lok Sabha will be one of the key issues to corner the BJP government in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Party president Mallikarjun Kharge has said that the Congress will fight the battle both legally and politically as the party alleged that this is a political case and there is a chronology attached to it. After Rahul Gandhi made a speech in Parliament everything moved at lightning speed, it said.
“The matter will not end... and the Congress will take this issue to the people during the general elections,” he said.
But the Congress has a tough task to maintain the momentum till the next election which is a year ahead. Before that, the party has to face crucial elections in four major states and the important Karnataka election is in May.
The Congress leader is going to kick-off his poll campaign from April 9 in Kolar. Congress general secretary (organisation), K.C. Venugopal said, “Rahul Gandhi will be in Kolar on April 9 and will address the ‘Jai Bharat’ mega rally there.”
He said Rahul is the voice of the people, you can never silence him. This voice will only get louder and stronger.