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Tuesday July 23, 2024

Disqualification politics

By Editorial Board
March 27, 2023

Moving from the tightly-wound politics of Islamabad to the equally dramatic politics of Delhi, it becomes obvious that the Subcontinent is dealing with more than its fair share of political drama. Last week, India saw opposition leader Rahul Gandhi being disqualified from parliament 24 hours after he was convicted in a defamation case and sentenced to two years imprisonment. Fifty-two year old Gandhi was convicted by a court for defamation for a remark he made against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the 2019 election campaign. Gandhi had asked why “all thieves have Modi as [their] common surname” and had implied that PM Modi was a criminal. Gandhi is on bail for a month and Congress has said it will appeal the Gujarat court’s verdict. The timing of Rahul Gandhi’s conviction and then disqualification is quite telling. Last year, Gandhi had started the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ (Unite India March) in September on foot, which went on for several months and in several states of India. It was quite a success amid the division and disunity that Modi has caused in India, once celebrated as the world’s largest democracy but now a country that cannot bear its opposition leader’s challenge to an autocratic prime minister.

Rahul Gandhi says he was disqualified because Modi is “scared of the next speech that is going to come on [Gautam] Adani” but he said he will continue to ask what Modi’s relationship with Adani was. Adani is an Indian industrialist and tycoon who has close ties to the Modi government and recently lost his status as the third-richest person in the world after a stock market rout on allegations of accounting fraud by a US-based short seller. Earlier this month, an Al Jazeera report said that according to documents, the “Indian government granted an extraordinary favour to controversial tycoon Gautam Adani, boosting his coal business”. Gandhi has been raising the issue of Adani quite vehemently and many Indian analysts say this has perturbed Modi, especially after the recent scandal that shook the Adani empire.

The Indian courts have been accused of being pro-BJP and quite pro-Modi over the years, with India’s political analysts calling Modi the ‘laadla’ of Indian courts. Modi has increasingly become paranoid about his image both in and outside of India: the BBC documentary crackdown is still fresh in everyone’s memories. At some point, the facade has to shatter. Will Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification offer the first crack? For the sake of India’s minority groups – especially Muslims – one would hope so. Meanwhile, South Asia continues to offer up unimaginative solutions such as disqualifications to political crises.