Rahul Gandhi's disqualification from Lok Sabha on Friday, a day after his conviction by a Surat court in criminal defamation case, triggered a massive political row with the BJP stating that Congress leader was "a habitual loose cannon" and the Congress alleging that he was got "deliberately disqualified".
Opposition leaders slammed the government after disqualification of the Rahul Gandhi from Lok Sabha and the Congress said it will launch a people's moment on the issue.
While Congress leaders including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and party chief Mallikarjun Kharge rallied behind Rahul Gandhi, opposition leaders including Mamata Banjerjee, K Chandrashekar Rao, MK Stalin, Hemant Soren, Arvind Kejiwal, Sharad Yadav, Uddhav Thackeray and Akhilesh Yadav attacked the BJP-led government.
Congress welcomed the support of opposition leaders and said the task of building opposition unity should be taken up in a systematic way. It expressed confidence of legal relief in the case. The party held a meeting in the evening, which was attended by party chief Mallikarjun Kharge and Sonia Gandhi, to chalk out next course of action.
Leaders of Left parties, Janata Dal-Secular also attacked the government. Some of them called it a "black day" for Indian democracy.
Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur, who held a joint press conference with Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, alleged that Rahul Gandhi considers himself above parliament, government, judicial system and country.
He said Rahul should probe "conspiracy" within Congress to oust him.
Thakur said Rahul Gandhi is on bail in seven cases and had rendered apology in the past.
"'Bhagwan ke ghar der hai par andher nahi'. Rahul Gandhi himself said, "unfortunately he is a MP." Today he got freedom from his misfortune. Along with him, the people of Wayanad also got rid of it," Thakur said at a joint press conference with union minister Dharmendra Pradhan.
He said despite being a Member of Parliament from Amethi for long, Rahul Gandhi "never asked" question for welfare of people of his earlier constituency.
"In all these years as an MP he participated in only 21 debates. He never even brought a single private member's bill, but openly teared the ordinance of his own government by calling it non-sense. Rahul Gandhi considers himself above the parliament, the government, the judicial system and the country," Thakur said.
He said in 2018, Rahul Gandhi submitted a written apology in the Supreme Court for his intemperate statement.
"The court also warned him against making such mistake in future. But in 2019, not once but on several occasions, he used indecent language, labelled insults and made derogatory remarks. His basic thinking behind all this was that he is above the law of the land and nothing can ever happen to him.
"After the Supreme Court's decision in the Lily Thomas case, it is very clear that if you are convicted for two years or more then you are considered to be suspended until & unless the conviction is not declared null & void. Parliament only notified it. The Speaker has nothing to do with it. It was done in full conformity of Section 8 of Representation of People's Act, Section 102(1) E of the constitution," he said.
Thakur said as soon as this punishment was delivered, it was certain that his membership will go.
"Rahul Gandhi must investigate this well-planned purification system, a well-thought-out conspiracy created inside the Congress to ouster him. Who in the Congress wants to get rid of Rahul Gandhi? There are big lawyers in Congress. Was there not a single man to give correct advice to him or was he intentionally misled?" Thakur asked.
He alleged that Rahul Gandhi "insulted an entire community (OBC)".
Pradhan said Rahul Gandhi has been convicted in a defamation case and sentenced to two-year jail.
"As per the law, conviction leads to disqualification from parliament membership. Congress party, especially Rahul's family, wants a separate Indian Penal Code (IPC) for him. Under this IPC, he shouldn't be convicted. They want a separate judiciary for him. However, they fail to understand that in a democracy the law is equal for all," Pradhan said.
Attacking the Modi government, AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said those who want to "destroy the nation" should stay in the BJP while those who want to "save the nation" from ruin must leave.
"Never before in the history of India was there a PM, who is just a 12th pass. He can't run the country and lets his ego guide his actions. I urge all BJP leaders to consider leaving the party as the country is being destroyed under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Those who want the nation destroyed can stay with the BJP while those who want to save it from ruin must leave," Kejriwal said.
"Now the people of the country will have to come forward and fight this undemocratic regime. If we want to save the country, 130 crore Indians will have to come forward and lead the fight. It doesn't matter which party comes to power. What is of concern is the way our democracy is being tarnished and attacked," he dded.
TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that Opposition leaders are being disqualified over speeches and BJP leaders with "criminal antecedents" were being made ministers.
"In PM Modi's New India, Opposition leaders have become the prime target of the 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," she said in a tweet.
Bharat Rashtra Samithi chief and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, said it was black day in the history of Indian democracy.
"Rahul Gandhi's disqualification from Parliament is the height of Narendra Modi's arrogance and dictatorship. This is not the time for conflicts between parties. All democrats should openly condemn the misdeeds of the BJP government to safeguard the democracy and constitutional values of the country," he said.
Akhilesh Yadav, who has kept his distance from Congress after their failed tie-up in 2017 assembly polls, also slammed the government.
"The political challenge does not end with the hijacking of one's membership of Parliament. The biggest movement is not the one in Parliament. We have to win this fight on the streets. The person who moved court claiming defamation should level a similar charge at people, who betrayed their country and fled abroad," Akhilesh Yadav tweeted in Hindi.
DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin called for an urgent relook at the action taken against Rahul Gandhi.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the decision to disqualify Rahul was taken in "haste" and is "yet another episode in BJP's authoritarian rampage against Indian democracy".
"This brazen assault is an insult to our democratic values and can't be overlooked. It must be unequivocally denounced," Vijayan tweeted.
NCP leader Sharad Pawar said opposition leaders need to stand together to defend our democratic institutions.
"Our constitution guarantees the right of each individual to fair justice; liberty of thought; equality of status and opportunity and fraternity assuring the dignity of each Indian. The disqualifications of Mr Rahul Gandhi and Mr Faizal a few months ago as MPs of the Lok Sabha are against the basic tenets of the constitution, where democratic values are being curtailed. This is condemnable and against the very principles on which the constitution is based. We all need to stand together to defend our democratic institutions," he said in a tweet.
Uddhav Thackeray said it was "murder of democracy".
"Rahul Gandhi's candidacy has been cancelled. Calling a thief, a thief has become a crime in our country. Thieves & looters are still free and Rahul Gandhi was punished. This is a direct murder of democracy. All govt systems are under pressure. This is the beginning of the end of the dictatorship. Only the fight has to be given direction," he said.
Mallikarjun Kharge alleged that BJP has been trying to get Rahul Gandhi disqualified.
"They (BJP) tried every trick in the book to disqualify him. They don't want MPs who speak the truth. But we will continue to stand for the truth. We'll continue to demand a JPC (in the Hindenburg-Adani row) and will even go to jail to save democracy."
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said the move to disqualify Rahul from the Lok Sabha will "cost" the BJP dear in the next Lok Sabha elections.
"Ever since the Bharat Jodo Yatra concluded successfully, the government is perturbed. The manner in which Rahul Gandhi, a patriot who belongs to a family that took part in the freedom struggle and whose grandmother and father laid down their lives for the country, has been stopped not just from speaking in the Parliament but even entering the building. They (BJP) will have to pay a price for this," Gehlot told ANI.
"They had harassed Indira Gandhi as well and she was disqualified from the Parliament. They paid the price as there was a wave for Indira Gandhi and she returned as PM with a massive majority. I can say that with the recent activities, our chances in the 2024 election will be boosted manifold. People won't tolerate such a dictatorial government," he added.
Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said Rahul's disqualification was nothing but an expression of the politics of vendetta."It is a sheer case of retributive politics as Rahul Gandhi has been gaining popularity in the wake of the Bharat Jodo Yatra. The Modi government cannot digest his rising popularity. This is a very cruel demonstration of an autocratic government," he said.
Telangana Congress chief Revanth Reddy said that Rahul's disqualification as an MP is nothing but an attempt to divert the attention of the people from the more pressing issues affecting the people.
"These are all non-democratic steps. The decision was taken by pressurising the Lok Sabha Secretariat. This was done to divert the attention of people from the main issue (JPC probe into the Adani Group). The Congress and the Gandhis are not afraid of them (BJP)," he said.
"PM Modi had once called Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury 'Surpanakha' in the Rajya Sabha. Despite being a PM, he made such a derogatory remark about her. They are just trying to scare the Gandhi family but we all are with them," Reddy added.
Renuka Chowdhury said she will file a defamation case against the Prime Minister.
"This classless megalomaniac referred to me as Surpanakha on the floor of the House. I will file a defamation case against him. Let's see how fast our courts act."
RJD leader and Bihar minister Tej Pratap Yadav said the disqualification is part of a larger conspiracy.
"The people of Bihar and the entire nation can see what they (BJP) are doing. All such decisions are being taken at their (BJP's) orders," he said.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said the disqualification of an elected member of Parliament has sent a "poor signal" to the world about the state of Indian democracy.
"I was stunned by this decision and particularly by the unseemly haste with which it was carried out. The lawyers will certainly be questioning this. It sends a very poor signal to the world about Indian democracy when the leader of the principal opposition party is treated in this way. You can't muzzle voices in a democracy and still call yourself democratic," Tharoor told ANI.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Friday mounted a strong attack on BJP-led government after disqualification of Rahul Gandhi from Lok Sabha and alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was rattled by questions on Adani issue and the Congress leader was a true patriot who had raised questions on issues of public interest.
In a series of tweets, Priyanka Gandhi said that the Nehru-Gandhi family has given its blood to the country and will never bow to those "before a dictator".
"@narendramodi, your sycophants called the son of a martyr prime minister a traitor, Mir Jafar. One of your Chief Ministers raised the question that who is the father of Rahul Gandhi? Following the custom of Kashmiri Pandits, a son wears a turban after his father's death, maintaining his family's tradition.
"Insulting the whole family and the Kashmiri Pandit community, you asked in Parliament why they don't keep Nehru name...but no judge gave you a sentence of two years.You were not disqualified from Parliament.... Rahul ji like a true patriot raised questions on Adani.
"Raised questions on Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi.... Has your friend Gautam Adani become bigger than the country's parliament and the people of India that you were shocked when his loot was questioned? You call my family dynastic, know, this family has shed blood for India's democracy...whom you are trying to destroy (politically)," the Congress leader said
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said that Nehru-Gandhi family has raised voice of people and fought for truth.
"Those whom you are seeking to destroy (politically), that family has raised voice of people of India and fought for truth for generations. The blood that flows in our veins, a speciality of it is,, it has and will never bow to coward, power-greedy dictator like you. Whatever you may do," she said.
Addressing a press conference at the party headquarters in the national capital, Congress leaders Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Jairam Ramesh said the BJP-led government was rattled by Gandhi's remarks.
"The issue before us is political, more than it is legal. It is a political issue because it signifies the systematic, repetitive emasculation of democratic institutions by the ruling party. It signifies the strangulation of democracy itself. We know that defamation is an exception to free speech, but over the last several years, we have had repeated examples of unthinkable assaults on freedom of speech, more importantly, freedom after speech. We all know that Rahul Gandhi has been speaking fearlessly inside and outside Parliament. He is paying a price for it," Singhvi said.
"This government is rattled because he clearly speaks with facts and figures on demonetisation. Be it the supposed clean chit to China, or the GST, he is consistently aggressive and open in his questioning. Therefore this government is finding new techniques to throttle his voice," Singhvi alleged.
Jairam Ramesh, who held a press conference after meeting of Congress leaders, said the Congress welcomes statements of all the opposition leaders,
"There was a consensus that we should now take the job of building opposition unity in a systematic way. Now the coordination has to be outside parliament. It is heartening to know that some parties which were not part of this floor coordination in parliament have also issued public statements condemning this action of disqualification of Rahul Gandhi," he added.
Gandhi was convicted over his "Modi surname" remarks made during an election rally in Karnataka in 2019. (ANI)