India’s newly elected lawmakers took the oath of office on Tuesday, but without two vocal government critics unable to take their seats because they are jailed on national security charges.

One is the Sikh separatist Amritpal Singh, a firebrand preacher arrested last year after a month-long police manhunt in Punjab state.

The other is Sheikh Abdul Rashid, a former state legislator in Indian-occupied Kashmir, known popularly as Engineer Rashid.

Rashid, arrested on charges of “terror funding” and money laundering in 2019, is awaiting his latest bail hearing on July 1, his lawyer Ubaid Shams told AFP.

The family of Singh, an advocate of the banned Khalistan movement for an independent Sikh homeland — the struggle for which sparked deadly violence in the 1980s and 1990s — said they had no news on whether he could take the oath.

“We don’t know whether he will come out of jail or not”, his father Tarsem Singh told AFP.

“We are at our village, and haven’t heard anything from the government,” he said from his home in rural Punjab.

“We don’t know what the authorities are thinking about his release.” Rashid’s name was called out in parliament on Monday when lawmakers began taking their oaths, with Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi the first to take the stand.

Modi, 73, on Monday appealed to an emboldened opposition for “consensus” following an election setback that forced him into a coalition government for the first time in a decade.

Gandhi appointed as parliamentary leader of opposition: party secretary

Modi’s chief rival Rahul Gandhi was appointed on Tuesday to lead India’s opposition in parliament, a key post that has been vacant for a decade.

Congress party general secretary K C Venugopal said Gandhi would be “a bold voice for the common people of India” and ensure the government “is held firmly accountable at all times”, he told reporters in a statement.

Venugopal said Congress party chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Rahul’s mother, had written to the parliament temporary speaker informing him he “is appointed as the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha”, India’s lower house.

The post has been vacant for 10 years because two dismal election results for Congress — once India’s dominant party — left it short of that threshold.

Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party ruled outright for the past decade but failed to repeat its previous two landslide wins this time, despite widespread expectations of another easy triumph.

“To protect the Constitution is the duty of every patriotic Indian,” he said shortly after in a statement after taking oath.

“We will fulfil this duty in full measure.”

Gandhi is one of several top opposition figures to face criminal proceedings in cases they claim are politically driven by Modi’s government.

He was sentenced to two years imprisonment last year in 2023 in a separate case in Gujarat but was not jailed after appealing to India’s top court.

The sentence did, however, force his brief disqualification from parliament until the Supreme Court suspended his conviction.

Gandhi, 54, is the scion of a dynasty that dominated Indian politics for decades and is the son, grandson and great-grandson of former prime ministers, beginning with independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru.

Opinion

Editorial

Afghan challenge
Updated 15 Jul, 2024

Afghan challenge

Foreign states must emphasise to the Afghan Taliban diplomatic recognition and trade relations all depend on greater counterterrorism efforts.
‘Complete’ justice
15 Jul, 2024

‘Complete’ justice

NOW that the matter of PTI’s reserved seats stands resolved, there are several equally pressing issues pertaining...
Drug fog
15 Jul, 2024

Drug fog

THE country has an old drug problem. While the menace has raged across divides of class and gender, successive ...
Miles to go
Updated 14 Jul, 2024

Miles to go

Some reforms agreed with the Fund are going to seriously impact economic growth and fresh investments, at least in the short term.
Iddat ruling
14 Jul, 2024

Iddat ruling

IT was a needless, despicable spectacle which only ended up uniting both conservatives and progressives in ...
Cricket shake-up
14 Jul, 2024

Cricket shake-up

SOMEONE had to take the blame and bear the brunt of the fallout from Pakistan’s disastrous showing at the T20 ...