Is Rahul’s disqualification a blessing in disguise for the Congress

Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from the lower house for a criminal defamation case may be a huge setback for the grand old party, but it may turn out to be a golden opportunity for the Congress and opposition as this may bring them to the same platform.

image source Times of India

 On 23rd March 2023, Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi was sentenced to two years of imprisonment by the Surat session court for referring to the Modi surname as thieves. Later, the Congress leader was granted bail and suspended the sentence for the next month, and gave him a chance to file an appeal regarding the same. But the real issue here is his disqualification from Lok Sabha.

The Lok Sabha Secretariat on Friday disqualified Rahul Gandhi from the Parliament, the next day after the Surat court convicted him in a 2019 criminal defamation case which awarded him imprisonment for the next two years. Soon after the dismissal of Rahul the Congress came to the roads and called it a “ black day for Indian democracy”, the party leadership assured that they will fight this battle both legally and politically. Interestingly the opposition also joined the Congress in the protest.

Rahul who will turn 53 this June, is no longer an MP following the disqualification and can’t hope to be one for the next eight years. If India doesn’t face mid-term polls, the next elections Rahul can contest will be the 2034 general elections and he will be 64 by then. This is not the only trouble Rahul is facing at the moment there are a lot more, he is still under the charge of ED for the National Herald Corruption case

Rahul’s troubles have come at a time when the grand old party is struggling to win back its lost ground, after its second straight humiliation in the 2019 general elections, where Gandhi faced defeat in his traditional family seat of Amethi in the hands of Smriti Irani. Thanks to Wayanad for which he remained as an MP.

What is section 8 of the Representation of People Act 1951?

According to the notification of the Lok Sabha Secretariat, Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified under section 8 of the Representation of the People’s act 1951 which says, a people’s representative if gets convicted for two or more years will get disqualified from any house he is representing. This is exactly what the act says.

“ A person convicted of any offense and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years other than any offense referred to in subsection (1) or sub-section (2) shall be disqualified from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release,” it is mentioned in section 8 (3) of Representation of People Act, 1951, which makes the former Congress President ineligible to contest the upcoming general elections until and unless he gets successful in getting the conviction revoked by the high courts.

In 2013 the UPA government tried to bring in some amendments to this law which says “ A person who gets convicted of any offense for more than two years will not be disqualified immediately but will get a time of three months to prove that he is not guilty if he fails to prove he will be dismissed”.

Rahul Gandhi protested against this decision of his own government and as a result, the amendment was abolished in October 2013. Ten years later his own decision backfired had that amendment been done, today Rahul could still have been a member of Lok Sabha today.

What is the Lily Thomas judgment?

Behind Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from the lower house, yesterday is the Representation of People’s Act and behind that law, there was a women lawyer who at the age of 86 petitioned the Supreme Court.

In an interview with the Economic Times in 2014, Thomas argued that in 2005 she was the one who filed the petition first because she was not happy with the fact that the convicted got a stay order from the courts, and after that, they contest elections and win them. For the first two times her petition was rejected, it was only on the third attempt she achieved success.

“There was another point in the Representation of the People’s act where a politician could file an appeal which could result in a stay on the conviction. It encouraged leaders with charges to contest elections,” she told the ET in 2014. When the UPA government made an amendment to the act which gives the convicted three months’ time to prove his innocence,

Thomas quickly filed a petition and she was getting ready for one more fight. Ironically the act got withdrawn due to the opposition of Rahul Gandhi as mentioned above.

A repeat of 1977 on cards?

Many political analysts look to the ongoing protest of Congress against Rahul’s dismissal and sentencing as a 1977-like situation. After the emergency, when Indira Gandhi faced massive defeat in the Lok Sabha polls the CBI at that time took her into custody due to various cases filed by the new government.

The former Prime Minister also faced imprisonment later but later portrayed herself as a victim and, made a comeback as a fighter.

She took full advantage of the weak governance and the unstable political situation of the country.

At that time there occurred an unfortunate massacre in Bihar’s Belchi. She smelled a golden opportunity and decided to travel there. As the place was isolated the journey to reach there was full of struggles first she traveled by train, then by jeep, then in a tractor despite heavy rain, and at last by an elephant. The people were very much pleased after receiving support and condolences from a leader of Indira Gandhi’s stature. Three years later in 1980, she stormed back to power at the center.

But today’s story is different.  She came back to power because the Janta party government was a khichdi sarkar with lots of internal clashes which stopped the government to function properly. The Congress took advantage of the situation by bringing down Prime Minister Morarji Desai and promoting his deputy Charn Singh only to bring him down too, which took the country to fresh elections.

Also, Narendra Modi is not Morarji Desai and Rahul is not Indira. The Wayanad Mp should also wait for a Belchi-like moment to take political advantage of his situation. 

The best chance for Congress to come out of Gandhi’s shadow

Although the disqualification of Rahul from the Lok Sabha is a big blow for the Congress, it also came out as a golden opportunity for the party to come out of family politics. The BJP has always targeted the grand old party of doing family politics, and also it has been sarcastically saying Rahul as its biggest asset in gaining victory in the elections.

But this is not the case, the BJP is winning mainly because of the Modi factor, Hindutva – nationalism, welfare politics, and for lack of unity in the opposition. But the BJP always tries to show a Modi vs Rahul contest in the time of elections which works for them. It is the best opportunity for Congress now to promote a non-Gandhi face against Modi which may help them to increase their acceptance in front of the public.

It is only the fear of Modi Vs Rahul that made the opposition think of a third front, to stop Narendra Modi in 2024. West Bengal Chief Minister who is leading the talks of the third front, has said Rahul is Modi’s biggest TRP.

Mamata further said if Congress drops its big brother attitude regarding coalition negotiations, then such a third front, which will only help the BJP, is not at all required. The next one year will be interesting to see where Indian politics heads to.

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