Rahul Gandhi is a senior leader of India's main opposition Congress party. Image Credit: REUTERS file

NEW DELHI: Top Indian opposition figure Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified from parliament as a result of his conviction for defamation, a notice from the national legislature said Friday.

“Rahul Gandhi... stands disqualified from the member of Lok Sabha from the date of his conviction,” the notice said.

The decision by the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s legislature, comes a day after Gandhi was found guilty of defamation for a 2019 campaign trail remark implying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a criminal.

Also on Rahul Gandhi

Gandhi, the leading face of the opposition Congress party, was sentenced to two years imprisonment but immediately granted bail after his lawyers announced their intention to appeal.

Congress spokesman Akhilesh Pratap Singh confirmed to AFP that his party had received the notice.

Congress members held protests in some parts of the country on Friday against Gandhi’s conviction and two-year-old jail sentence.

Congress party officials have described the judgment as politically motivated and blamed the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Gandhi was convicted by a court in the western state of Gujarat, which also granted him bail and suspended the sentence for one month.

Congress gears up to file an appeal

A close aide to Gandhi said the leader had already adhered with the court order and did not enter parliament on Friday during house proceedings.

Leaders of the Congress party said they were gearing up to file an appeal in a higher court.

"This battle will be fought both legally and politically," said Pawan Khera, the national spokesperson of the party.

"Rahul Gandhi will not stop from asking difficult questions and exposing crony capitalism and this government's active role in promoting and protecting it," he said.

Earlier in the day, Congress party members held protests in some parts of the country against Gandhi's conviction and two-year-old jail sentence.

Congress party officials have described the judgment as politically motivated and blamed the government of Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"The BJP is fearful about the rise of Rahul Gandhi and he poses a direct threat to the Modi government," said Pradip Bhattacharya, a Congress party lawmaker from West Bengal state.

BJP president J.P. Nadda dismissed the charges, and said that Gandhi had insulted a section of Indians who happen to share the same surname as Prime Minister Modi.

Critical political test

"It is a critical political test for Gandhi and we are depending on regional parties to support the Congress and stand against Modi's party," said a second senior Congress leader on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the press.

Gandhi has already received support from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that rules Delhi and two of whose top leaders are in jail on what they call trumped-up charges.

"We have differences with the Congress, but it is not right to implicate Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case like this.

It is the job of the public and the opposition to ask questions.

We respect the court but disagree with the decision," AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Members of 12 opposition parties met Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge on Friday but it was not clear if they would all align in protesting against the court verdict.

The office of India's president confirmed that Congress leaders have sought a meeting with President Draupadi Murmu to lodge a protest against the conviction with the top constitutional executive.

Reactions from lawmakers and politicians:
*MAMATA BANERJEE, CHIEF MINISTER, WEST BENGAL: “In PM Modi’s New India, opposition leaders have become the prime target of BJP! While BJP leaders with criminal antecedents are inducted into the cabinet, opposition leaders are disqualified for their speeches. Today, we have witnessed a new low for our constitutional democracy.”

* PRIYANKA CHATURVEDI, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, SHIV SENA-UBT: “Vindictive and shameful action against Rahul Gandhi. This disqualification yet again proves that we are living in the times of caged democracy.”
SHASHI THAROOR, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, CONGRESS: “I’m stunned by this action and by its rapidity, within 24 hours of the court verdict and while an appeal was known to be in process. This is politics with the gloves off and it bodes ill for our democracy.”

*JAIRAM RAMESH, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, CONGRESS: “We will fight this battle both legally and politically. We will not be intimidated or silenced.”

*KIREN RIJIJU, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT AND MINISTER, BHARATIYA JANATA PARTY: “Rahul Gandhi made very derogatory remark and disgraced an entire OBC (other backward class) Community. Shockingly, some Congress leaders are trying to defend it.”