The Congress on Friday accused the government of acting with "lightning speed" in disqualifying Rahul Gandhi, saying it amounts to "strangulation of democracy" and alleging that the ruling dispensation is coming out with new techniques to "gag" him.
The party leadership got into a huddle soon after the disqualification was announced by the Lok Sabha Secretariat and decided to fight it legally and politically and launch a countrywide jan andolan starting Monday.
The Congress also welcomed statements of support by opposition leaders and said Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge has been coordinating with various parties in Parliament and this coordination will be extended outside Parliament as well.
Party MPs earlier staged a protest march till Vijay Chowk and several MPs were detained by the Delhi Police for violation of prohibitory orders and kept at the Kingsway Camp police station before being released in the evening.
In his first reaction after the disqualification, Rahul Gandhi in a tweet said, "I am fighting for the voice of India. I am ready to pay any price."
His sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra launched an all-out attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying in a tweet in Hindi, "Narendra Modi ji, your sycophants called the son of a martyred prime Minister a traitor, Mir Jafar. One of your Chief Minister raised questions as to who is the father of Rahul Gandhi? Following the custom of Kashmiri Pandits, a son wears 'pagdi' after his father's death, maintaining his family's tradition.".
"Insulting the whole family and the Kashmiri Pandit community, you asked in Parliament why we don't keep the name Nehru. But no judge gave you a sentence of two years. Did not disqualify you from the Parliament," she said.
Addressing a press conference at the AICC headquarters, party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the issue of Gandhi's disqualification was both political and legal.
"It is a political issue because it signifies the systematic and repetitive emasculation of democratic institutions by the ruling party and the strangulation of democracy itself."
He alleged there have been "unthinkable assaults" on the freedom of speech with people being told that they would face the worst possible consequences -- civil, criminal, incarceration, intimidation and harassment.
"We all know Rahul Gandhi has been speaking inside and outside Parliament fearlessly. He has spoken on social issues, economic issues, political issues without any fear or inhibition...clearly he is paying the price for it," Singhvi said.
"This government is finding new techniques of throttling his voice, gagging him. Rahul Gandhi goes abroad, he is not allowed to speak on grounds of fake nationalism," he alleged, adding, "This is a conspiracy by the BJP against him."
After the meet, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh told reporters that the party has decided to launch a people's movement, and alleged that the government has acted with lightning speed to "gag" him.
"We will go all over the country as Rahul Gandhi was deliberately disqualified for raising his voice against the Modi government on the Adani issue, on the government's foreign policy and the clean chit given to China for incursions at the border," Ramesh said, adding that the BJP is rattled with the success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
The Congress leadership has welcomed the statements of support of all opposition leaders, he said, adding, "There was a consensus that we should now take the job of building opposition unity in a systematic way."
Ramesh also raised questions over the manner in which the complainant in the defamation case initially sought to get action on his complaint stayed and soon after Gandhi's speech on the Adani issue in Parliament, got the stay vacated and the case moved forward. "This is no coincidence."
In a tweet later, Ramesh said, "The Prime Minister is using G20 to proclaim to the world that India is the Mother of Democracy. That Mother is weeping today at the Murder of Democracy in India."
The Congress said it was "a black day for Indian democracy" and asserted that the battle will be fought both "legally and politically".
Kharge said the BJP made all efforts to get Rahul Gandhi disqualified as he was speaking the truth. "He has been removed from the House for speaking the truth, fighting for the Constitution and for people's rights."
"This was not a question of backward class, Lalit Modi and Nirav Modi are not of backward class. They are trying to build a perception that Rahul Gandhi spoke against backward class. Gandhi was putting forward the truth before the country so they were not liking it," he said in an apparent reference to BJP chief J P Nadda's remarks that Gandhi had compared OBC communities to thieves.
The BJP would be thinking that their problem is solved by ousting him from Lok Sabha but it is not so as the demand for Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) would continue to be raised, he said. Opposition leaders have been demanding a JPC probe into the Adani issue.
"We will keep fighting for protecting democracy and even if we have to go to jail, we will do so. Our people are ready to fight," Kharge said.
The Congress president said there will be a meeting of senior party leaders at 5 pm and a strategy going forward will be decided upon.
Congress general secretary in-charge communications Jairam Ramesh said in a tweet, "We will fight this battle both legally and politically. We will not be intimidated or silenced. Instead of a JPC into the PM-linked Adani Maha Mega Scam, Rahul Gandhi stands disqualified. Indian Democracy Om Shanti."
Congress' leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury hit out at the government over Gandhi's disqualification, saying the country is witnessing "politics of vendetta spearheaded by the Modi government".
"It is a sheer case of retributive politics because Rahul Gandhi has been gaining popularity in the wake of the Bharat Jodo Yatra which could not be digested by the Modi government. The government and the BJP believe that Gandhi has to be muzzled because if he is allowed to speak in Parliament they will be dislodged from government," he said.
Chowdhury termed the disqualification as a "cruel" step of an "autocratic" government and alleged that democracy cannot survive under the present dispensation.
Congress general secretary in-charge organisation K C Venugopal also lashed out at the government and said the day Gandhi raised questions about the Adani issue against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP planned a "conspiracy" to silence the voice of Gandhi .
"This is a clear case of anti-democratic, dictatorial attitude of the BJP government," Venugopal said in a video statement.
In a tweet later, he said, "Rahul Gandhi ji's disqualification is the final nail in the coffin. This is a black day for Indian democracy. It is a well-orchestrated move of the Modi government to silence his voice in Parliament. We will fight this legally and politically on every front, the truth will prevail."
Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said he was stunned by the action against Gandhi and by its rapidity. "This is politics with the gloves off and it bodes ill for our democracy," Tharoor said in a tweet.
In a tweet in Hindi, the Congress said, "Rahul Gandhi's Lok Sabha membership has been terminated. He is constantly fighting for you and this country from the road to the Parliament, trying everything possible to save democracy."
"Despite every conspiracy, he will continue this fight at all costs and will take action as per law in this matter. The fight continues," the party said.