'They also think that if all opposition parties rally behind him, then 2024 will be Rahul versus Modi and that will be advantage BJP'
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was disqualified as a Lok Sabha member on Friday, just a day after a court in Surat, Gujarat, found him guilty in a defamation case.
The case against Rahul Gandhi was over his remark at an election rally in April 2019 in Kolar, Karnataka, where he asked, “Why do all thieves have the name Modi?”
A defamation case was filed by BJP member of legislative assembly from Surat, Purnesh Modi, who found Rahul’s statement offensive as he carried the Modi surname.
On Thursday Chief judicial magistrate H H Verma held Rahul guilty of defamation and sentenced him to two years imprisonment, but also granted him bail in the case and suspended the sentence for a month to enable him to appeal in higher courts.
If Rahul does not get a reprieve from the higher courts, then he will have to go to jail for two years after which he will be disqualified for six years from contesting elections.
It that happens, the next election Rahul Gandhi will be able to contest would be in 2031.
After his disqualification, Rahul tweeted in Hindi stating, “I am fighting for the voice of India. I am ready to pay any price.”
Syed Firdaus Ashraf spoke to Rasheed Kidwai, veteran Congress watcher and author of 24 Akbar Road and Sonia -- A Biography, to know what awaits Rahul Gandhi.
What is the future like for Rahul Gandhi now?
Every adversity in politics brings opportunity. It depends now on how the Cothe ngress is able to take this issue to the people’s court.
In the past we have seen the Congress is not very effective in opposition as Bharatiya Janata Party was whenever they were in opposition.
In the past we have seen there were several possible modalities, like it happened in July 1989. At that point of time 106 opposition members of Parliament resigned, forcing the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to call for early elections though he had 410 Congress members of Parliament in a house of 542 seats.
The opposition party MPs resigned in July and three months later he was forced to call for early elections, but in today’s environment it is very difficult to bring all the opposition parties together under an umbrella and take drastic action.
The second part is about the political movement. We have seen Anna Hazare’s movement, Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement and V P Singh’s movement in 1988-89, and just like those movements Rahul Gandhi was able to bring 150 civil society organisations to his Bharat Jodo Movement.
Now the question is whether the Congress party can bring other political parties which are good at agitations, like the Aam Aadmi Party, under their umbrella because after this judgment Rahul Gandhi cannot be a member of Parliament for the next eight years.
Six years of disqualification and two years of conviction, and if this becomes a reality then someone else, a non-Congress opposition leader, can take this space.
Do you think this is possible, as Rahul Gandhi will be out as the leading Congress party leader in future?
He will continue because whole politics will revolve around him. But for the time being, he will not be the contender and when this happens, other competitors look at you with sympathy.
Now is the opportunity for Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal go to the people and target the Narendra Modi government in the name of Rahul Gandhi as they know now Rahul Gandhi will not be a beneficiary.
This is a very complex thing but at the same time, very interesting as adversity brings out a lot of goodness in a person.
When Indira Gandhi was handcuffed and jailed she was nobody and then that came as a turning point in her political career with the Belchi moment.
But we must also remember that one point is not similar to other. At that point of time (of her arrest) Indira Gandhi never claimed she will be back in 1980 and one cannot say that history will repeat itself for Rahul Gandhi.
In 2013, too, when Narendra Modi was declared as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, many in the BJP too were not sure he will get a majority on his own. He did it not once but twice.
Was Rahul Gandhi gaining popularity after Bharat Jodo Yatra?
How do you quantify this popularity?
The tools that are available in terms of survey agency, with all due respect to them, they have a lot of political flavour and sometimes it is a spurious exercise.
It is election that decides popularity and the problem with Rahul Gandhi is that he is not a politician who tries to gain political advantage.
He may be talking about China and other aspects like the absence of democracy etc. but he is constantly accused of undermining national interests.
Seasoned politicians will do a mix and match.
Take, for example, the Hindi cinema movie Pathaan, which got embroiled in political controversy and in that Shahrukh Khan and his team pulled a rabbit out of the hat.
They packaged and narrated the movie in such a way that it catered to various segments and pleased all.
And politics is far more difficult as you are dealing with real issues and real people, etc.
Now we have entered a very interesting phase as the Lok Sabha elections of 2024 has been fast-forwarded and we are going to see a lot of action and excitement.
The Congress party boasts of some of the finest legal minds, and yet the party is caught in legal quagmire like this?
I don’t want to get into many aspects of this but we have a history of legal cases influencing the course of politics.
Rahul Gandhi is sometimes wary of the legal counsel given to him, or sometimes legal people do not see the political aspect of the case.
Legality of issues has a very different impact on politics and sometimes legal battles are won in court, like that of former chief minister of Maharashtra A R Antulay who was accused of corruption.
He won the case and got a clean chit from the court of law but it destroyed his political life.
Several other instances are there.
Politics is different from legal profession.
A political case needs a political response.
Rahul Gandhi will have to fight this battle legally, but he has to find a political response to this issue now.
Earlier he was not finding support from a party like AAP but now he is getting support from them and he must seize this political opportunity and go for drastic action.
The BJP seems relentless in its effort to silence Rahul Gandhi, from multiple angles, and even deny him access to Parliament. Do you think they have singled him out?
The BJP wants to make an example out of Rahul Gandhi.
They want to project Rahul Gandhi as someone who is a reckless speaker and who is not concerned about the wider national interest.
That he is the one who uses foreign soil to malign India and the middle class antipathy towards him.
The BJP thinks Rahul Gandhi is easy meat and they want to make an example out of him.
They also think that if all opposition parties rally behind him, then 2024 will be Rahul versus Modi and that will be advantage BJP.
You may find a bit of paradox in it as the BJP may not like Rahul but at the same they want him to politically stay on as first among equals within the opposition ranks.
Jo dikhta hai woh ho nahi raha hai. A lot of things are going behind the scenes.
Is there a lesson in this for the Congress party, to not take your opponents lightly, and that the BJP plays by different, take-no-prisoner, rules?
The Congress knows he BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are capable to spring surprises and give a body blow to them.
(But what matters is) the response mechanism of the opposition.
As I gave the example of 1989, Rajiv Gandhi had a brute majority yet he was humbled.
At that time it was unthinkable for the right (BJP) and Left parties to come together but they did come together.
They were able to beat Rajiv Gandhi but now the situation is very different as the players are different, media is different and the rules of the games have changed.
But still, resilience and determination are required.
The Supreme Court had already told Rahul Gandhi, when he had apologised for his Rafale remarks, to mind his words. This was also mentioned by the Surat court in its guilty verdict. Did Rahul not heed the SC warning?
I will not get into what the judges have thought of it.
In a democracy political discourse is not a one-way street and all kind of statements are made.
Ours is a noisy, boisterous democracy.
In the 1980s there were statements like ‘gali gali mein shor hai, Rajiv Gandhi chor hai’.
It was a very direct remark and defamatory but it found acceptance in the opposition which included the BJP too then.
We cannot wish away that, and the courts have their own ways and they look it on a case to case basis.
And as they say, the law is blind but in politics you have to take a holistic approach.