A day after his disqualification from Lok Sabha following conviction in a criminal defamation case, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accused the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of being "scared" of his allegations on the Adani issue and said he was defending the democratic voice of people and will continue to do so.
The BJP hit back at him with Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur stating that the central government and Lok Sabha have no role to play in his disqualification and that Rahul Gandhi "is a case of political immaturity".
Thakur said as per apex court judgement, disqualification is automatically effective from the date of conviction, Constitution expressly prohibits Parliament to defer date of disqualification and the Lok Sabha is bound by the Representation of People's Act and SC judgment on membership termination order.
BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad also slammed Rahul Gandhi saying his utterances on Modi's surname "were abusive, not critical and that the BJP is going launch a stir against his insult to OBCs."
Gandhi was convicted by a Gujarat court over his Modi surname remark made during an election rally in Karnataka in 2019.
Addressing a press conference at the party headquarters here on Saturday, Gandhi said that the BJP allegations against him, his disqualification were aimed at distract form "the panic that Prime Minister is feeling".
Stating that he was not scared of threats, disqualification and prison sentences, Rahul Gandhi said that he will not "back down" from asking questions on the Adani issue.
"This is the whole drama that is been orchestrated to defend the Prime Minister from the simple question- Who's Rs 20,000 crore went to Adani's shell companies? I am not scared of these threats, disqualifications or prison sentences," he said.
"I am not interested in anything but the truth. I only speak the truth, it is my work and I will keep doing it even if I get disqualified or get arrested. This country has given me everything and that is why I do this. I will keep asking questions on Adani issue, they cannot scare me by disqualification or putting me in jail. I won't back down," he added.
Gandhi said he was not worried. "Do I look worried to you, do I look worried to you. I am excited, I am happy that these people have given me the best gift, they could give me.
He said parts of his speech made in Parliament was expunged, and he had later written a detailed reply to the Lok Sabha Speaker.
"Some ministers lied about me, that I sought help from foreign powers. But there is no such thing I have done. I will not stop asking questions, I will keep questioning the relationship between PM Modi and Adani. I have said many times that democracy is being attacked in the country. We are seeing examples of this each day. I asked questions in the Parliament regarding the relationship between PM Modi and Adani," he said.
Answering a query, Gandhi said "My name in not Savarkar, my name is Gandhi. Gandhis don't apologise to anyone."
"Moot question remains who invested Rs 20,000 crore in Adani shell firms. I will keep asking the question. Why is the BJP-led centre is allegedly protecting the businessman Gautam Adani? Kyuki aap hi Adani ho. Whole game of disqualification, allegations by ministers is aimed at distracting people from Adani issue."
He also alleged that he Prime Minister was scared of the "next speech that is going to come on Adani". "I have seen it in his eyes. That is why, first the distraction and then the disqualification," Rahul Gandhi said.
"For this government, the country is Adani and Adani is country," he alleged
Reacting to his disqualification from the Lok Sabha, Rahul Gandhi said that even if he is permanently disqualified, he will keep doing his job.
Expressing his gratitude to the opposition parties for extending support to him and said, "all of us will work together."
"I am here to defend the democratic voice of the people of India. Will continue to do that, I am not scared of anyone."
"My job is to defend the democratic nature of the country which means defending the institutions of the country, defending the voice of the poor people of the country and telling people the truth about people like Adani who are exploiting the relationship they have with the PM, " Gandhi said.
Rahul Gandhi also said that he had asked the Speaker to let him respond on the floor of the House to the allegations over his London remarks and the charge that he had sought the intervention of international forces in the domestic affairs of the country.
"BJP leaders claimed that I am helping anti-India forces. I told the Speaker that it is my right to respond to these allegations. But he didn't allow me," he said. "I have only one step and that's to fight for truth and to defend democratic nature of this country. Disqualify me for life, jail me for life, I will continue going."
During his press conference, Gandhi also got furious over a journalist's question over BJP's 'OBC insult' allegations against him and said the question had been posed to him earlier and "if you want to work for BJP, put it on your chest'"
Following his conviction, BJP leaders have targeted Gandhi and repeatedly alleged that his remarks showed "how deep rooted his hatred for OBCs is."
A journalist asked Gandhi about BJP's allegations and its plans for nationwide pressers. Gandhi said these "attempts" had been made earlier during his presser.
"Why are you working so directly for BJP, do it with some discretion, ask it in roundabout...see there is smile..if you want to work for the BJP, then bring a BJP flag, symbol and put it on your chest, then I'll answer you the same way I answer them. Don't pretend to be a pressman," he said.
"Hawa nikal gayi," he said a moment later before moving on to other questions.
Earlier, answering a similar question on BJP allegations, Gandhi had said that in all his speeches during the Bharat Jodo Yatra, he had talked of need of unity and spoken against efforts to spread hatred.
He said it was not a matter concerning OBCs but of "relations between Narendra Modiji and Adani" and accused the BJP of trying to divert attention from the issue.
Asked about BJP referring to his tearing an ordinance during UPA rule which could have been of help to him now, Gandhi said "when somebody is guilty of something, they want to distract everybody's attention".
"If you catch a thief, the first thing, he says, I didn't do it. The second thing, he says- look there, look there, look there, look there, that is what the BJP is doing."
Strongly rebutting Gandhi's allegations, Anurag Thakur said elected representatives automatically stand disqualified moment they are convicted by ourt to jail for two or more years.
"GOI and LS have no role to play. It can't suspend or revoke disqualification," he said.
Thakur, who made a series of tweets, said Rahul Gandhi is not the first to face disqualification.
"Wonder whether legal wizards of Congress have checked rules? Instead, they are brazenly defending their hatred for OBC which caused his conviction thus showing utter disrespect towards judiciary and people. RG is a case of political immaturity, losing whatsoever little trust left, for gimmicks and cheap popularity," he said.
Thakur said in 2013 Lily Thomas Vs Union of India case, SC set aside Section 8(4) of RP Act which once protected convicted legislators from disqualification on account of their pending appeal.
"As per judgment, disqualification is automatically effective from the date of conviction. Constitution expressly prohibits Parliament to defer date from which a disqualification wud come into effect. LS Speaker is bound by the RP Act and SC judgment to issue membership termination order," he added.
BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad, who held a press conference in Patna, said no attempts were made to seek a stay on the magistrate court's verdict to encash Rahul Gandhi's conviction in the Karnataka Assembly polls.
"Rahul's utterances on Modi's surname were abusive, not critical and that the BJP is going launch a stir against his insult to OBCs. You have the right to criticise. You don't have the right to abuse and insult. He (Rahul Gandhi) abused and insulted (a backward community) in a public meeting. The court gave him a chance to apologise. He said he won't apologise," Prasad said.
Referring to Gandhi's Modi surname remark over which he was convicted, Prasad said that the Congress leader had said that he makes remarks with deliberation.
"In his press conference, Rahul Gandhi tried to make false statements & did not speak on the subject. Rahul Gandhi has been punished for his speech in 2019. Today he said that 'I speak thoughtfully' which means whatever Rahul Gandhi said in 2019, it was spoken thoughtfully."
On Thursday, a Surat court sentenced Rahul Gandhi to two years imprisonment in a defamation case filed against him over his 'Modi surname' remark. In April 2019, he made the remark "how come all thieves have Modi as the common surname" at an election rally at Kolar in Karnataka. The court approved Gandhi's bail on a surety and stayed the sentence for 30 days to allow him to approach the higher courts. Gandhi has been disqualified as MP from Wayanad.
The Congress party on Friday came down heavily at the Centre over the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi as a Lok Sabha member, calling it a "strangulation of democracy" while exuding confidence that the disqualification will be revoked through a stay on his conviction by a higher court.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Saturday launched a fresh attack on the BJP over Rahul Gandhi's disqualification from the Lok Sabha, saying the move was a ploy by the ruling party to evade questions on the Adani issue in Parliament.
"BJP wants to avoid this (Adani) question. The entire Parliament, barring the Opposition, is silent and the Prime Minister himself has turned mute. They (BJP) are levelling all kinds of charges on Rahul. However, the PM remains silent on whose money was invested in shell companies owned by Gautam Adani and why isn't it being investigated," Priyanka Gandhi said in tweets.
She highlighted three statements of Rahul Gandhi during his press conference.
Senior Congress leaders will participate in Sankalp Satyagraha at Raj Ghat on Sunday. (ANI)