India’s parliament disqualified the leader of the opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, on Friday, a day after a magistrate’s court jailed him for two years in a defamation case linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surname.
Gandhi “stands disqualified from the membership of Lok Sabha”, a parliament notice said, referring to the lower house of parliament.
Gandhi, 52, was found guilty for a 2019 speech in which he referred to thieves as having the surname Modi. He made the comment while campaigning ahead of the last general election.
Gandhi was convicted by a court in the western state of Gujarat, which also granted him bail and suspended the sentence for one month.
A close aide to Gandhi said the leader had already adhered with the court order and did not enter parliament on Friday during house proceedings.
Leaders of the Congress party said they were gearing up to file an appeal in a higher court.
“This battle will be fought both legally and politically,” said Pawan Khera, the national spokesperson of the party.
“Rahul Gandhi will not stop from asking difficult questions and exposing crony capitalism and this government’s active role in promoting and protecting it,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Congress party members held protests in some parts of the country against Gandhi’s conviction and two-year-old jail sentence.
Congress party officials have described the judgment as politically motivated and blamed the government of Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“The BJP is fearful about the rise of Rahul Gandhi and he poses a direct threat to the Modi government,” said Pradip Bhattacharya, a Congress party lawmaker from West Bengal state.
BJP president J.P. Nadda dismissed the charges, and said that Gandhi had insulted a section of Indians who happen to share the same surname as Prime Minister Modi.
“It is one thing to question government regarding the policies, that would be considered a healthy debate, but clearly the Congress has never followed such rules,” he told Reuters.