Indian Congress Party leader Gandhi was stripped of his seat after he was convicted of defamation following a comment about Prime Minister Modi.
India’s leading opposition figure Rahul Gandhi has vowed to continue fighting for democracy after blaming his expulsion from parliament on his demands for an investigation into a key business ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Gandhi, 52, was stripped of his parliamentary seat on Friday, a day after he was convicted of defamation in Modi’s home state of Gujarat for a comment in the 2019 campaign trail seen as an insult to the prime minister.
The Modi government has been widely accused by political opponents and rights groups of using the law to silence critics, but Gandhi said he would not bow to intimidation.
“I will do what I have to do to defend the democratic nature of this country,” he told reporters on Saturday. “They are used to everyone being afraid of them. I’m not afraid of them.”
The removal from parliament of Modi’s main opponent comes as the prime minister’s relationship with Gautam Adani, one of India’s most powerful industrialists, comes under scrutiny.
Modi has been a close associate of Adani for decades, but the latter’s business empire gained attention again this year after a US investment firm accused it of “brutal” corporate fraud.
Gandhi’s opposition Congress party has been demanding a thorough parliamentary inquiry into the allegations for weeks.
“I have been disqualified because the prime minister … is afraid of the next speech on Adani,” Gandhi told reporters. “I will keep asking the question: what is the prime minister’s relationship with Mr Adani?”
Congress supporters held small protests in several cities across the country on Saturday to protest Gandhi’s ousting as an MP.
Gandhi is the leading face of Congress, once the dominant force of Indian politics, but now a shadow of his former self.
He is the scion of India’s most famous political dynasty and the son, grandson and great-grandson of former prime ministers, starting with independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru.
But he has struggled to challenge the electoral juggernaut of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its nationalist appeal to the country’s Hindu majority.
The House of Representatives ruled that he was not eligible to continue as a member of parliament on Friday, a day after his conviction in the defamation case.
The prosecution stemmed from a comment made during the 2019 election campaign in which Gandhi had asked why “all thieves have Modi as their common surname”.
His comments were seen as a slur against the prime minister, who won the election in a landslide victory.
Government members also said the comment was a slander against all those who share the Modi surname, which is associated with the lower rungs of India’s traditional caste hierarchy.
Gandhi was sentenced to two years in prison on Thursday but was released on bail after his lawyers promised to appeal.
A BJP spokesperson said on Thursday that the court acted with “due process” in reaching its verdict.