On March 23, a court in Surat convicted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi of criminal defamation for a case filed in 2019 by Purnesh Modi, a member of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly, who felt he and his community were being defamed. The resulting course of events stirred India’s political landscape, starting with Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as a member of Lok Sabha, and then the reactions and counter-reactions over it.
Although news portals have covered articles explaining the reason, further implications, and the fate of Rahul Gandhi, the unintended consequences of all these developments have not been given much significance. Looking through statements by various opposition parties and their leaders, one can see uniformity in opinion, which was nowhere present in the past few years.
Condemning the disqualification of Congress MP Rahul Gandhi and expressing their support for him, various opposition parties, including those who do not support Congress, gave statements of solidarity.
Priyanka Chaturvedi, Rajya Sabha MP and deputy leader of Shiv Sena (UBT), labeled the move as “vindictive and shameful,” while former Maharashtra chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray, warned that it marks “the beginning of the end of dictatorship.” K. Chandrashekar Rao, Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) president, and Telangana chief minister, described the action against Gandhi as “the height of Narendra Modi’s arrogance and shame.” Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Chowdhury tweeted her party’s disapproval, stating that the disqualification is “the last nail in the coffin for constitutional freedoms in India.” Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav also voiced his support for Gandhi and called for an “honest” investigation that would disqualify many BJP leaders for their speeches and comments.
Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin described the move as an “attack on the progressive democratic forces” of the country and criticized the intimidating tone of action that appears to deny even the leader of the national political party the right to express his opinion. Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Manoj Jha expressed his dismay on Twitter, stating that “Democracy is declared dead…RIP.” The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) from Punjab also criticized the move, calling it “arbitrary” and against the principle of natural justice.
The united opposition has expressed concern about the health of democracy in India and warned that this move sets a dangerous precedent.
These statements have come at a time when the country is just a year away from the 18th Lok Sabha election. The major question remains: will the opposition be able to unite this time, or will this remain just a show of solidarity like several other incidents? Now that Rahul Gandhi will not be able to attend the Parliamentary sessions, the opposition will need a face to fill that vacuum. Congress has plenty of options, but its policy of not letting someone who could undermine the authority of Rahul Gandhi has haunted it for a long time. However, this is the perfect opportunity for someone to take control of this opening and do something substantial other than just cling to Modi-bashing rhetoric.
It is debatable whether this ray of unity in the opposition is just a coincidence or the result of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, but it can be a ray of hope for the opposition in India, which has been looking to counter the wave of the Narendra Modi government. If Congress fails to act even now, it will find it hard to revive itself from the setbacks this event has forced onto it. It is also an opportunity for various other leaders in the opposition to establish themselves as the figure for a united opposition in India. Regional leaders have tried to assert their importance at the national level on various occasions, but more often than not, they were sidelined to make space for Rahul Gandhi.