Rahul Gandhi returns to parliament as MP after court order in Modi surname case

Indian politician Rahul Gandhi returned to parliament on Monday amidst a rousing cheer by members of opposition parties after his lawmaker status was restored two days after the Supreme Court suspended his conviction in a defamation case.

Mr Gandhi, 52, was disqualified as a member of parliament in March after he was convicted and sentenced to two years in jail in a defamation case for mocking prime minister Narendra Modi’s surname.

The secretariat of the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, on Monday said in a statement that the disqualification of Mr Gandhi has been revoked due to “further judicial pronouncements”.

It comes two days after the Supreme Court suspended Mr Gandhi’s conviction in the case, citing the trial court judge’s lack of adequate “reasons and ground” for imposing the maximum two-year sentence on the politician as the basis for its decision.

But the court remarked that his remarks on Mr Modi’s surname were “no doubt… in bad taste” and he should “have been more careful while making the public speech”.

Mr Gandhi, the fourth-generation scion and great grandson of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is a member of parliament from Wayanad in the southern state of Kerala.

The apex court’s order on Friday also means that he will be now able to contest next year’s general elections unless a final decision by the court goes against him.

His return to parliament as an MP is likely to boost the opposition’s effort against Mr Modi’s government ahead of a no-confidence motion this week over deadly ethnic violence in the eastern state of Manipur that has continued for more than three months,

The no-confidence vote is not expected to pose any threat to the ruling government as the coalition party has enough members in the parliament to defeat the motion.

Videos showed Mr Gandhi arriving at parliament as opposition party leaders cheered him on from the balconies and surrounded him with chants of “Rahul Gandhi zindabad” (long live Rahul Gandhi).

He paid tribute to a statue of Mahatma Gandhi before attending a Lok Sabha session, scheduled to start at noon.

The Congress party described Mr Gandhi’s reinstatement as a “victory of love against hate”.

“It brings relief to the people of India, and especially to Wayanad. Whatever time is left of their tenure, BJP and Modi Govt should utilise that by concentrating on actual governance rather than denigrating Democracy by targeting opposition leaders,” said Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge.

Congress MP Shahi Tharoor said it was a “victory for justice and our democracy”.

“With enormous relief, welcome the official announcement of Rahul Gandhi’s reinstatement,” he said. “He can now resume his duties in the Lok Sabha to serve the people of India and his constituents in Wayanad,” he added.

Mr Gandhi was controversially disqualified following his conviction in the defamation case for insulting Mr Modi in a 2019 speech in which he referred to a list of “thieves” as having the surname Modi.

Mr Gandhi had asked: “Why do all thieves have Modi as their surname?” He then mentioned two other people with the Modi surname – unrelated to the prime minister – one being a fugitive diamond tycoon and another a cricket executive banned from the Indian Premier League.

The case against Mr Gandhi and his conviction followed by the speed of his removal from parliament shocked Indian politicians, with critics calling it an assault against democracy and free speech by a government which is seeking to crush dissent.

Mr Gandhi previously argued that his remarks were made to highlight corruption and had not targeted any community.

Following his disqualification, Mr Gandhi said he was being targeted because the prime minister is “scared” of him.

“I have been disqualified because the prime minister is scared of my next speech, he is scared of the next speech that is going to come on Adani,” he said. The Adani Group is an Indian multinational conglomerate founded by Gautam Adani, who is thought to be close to Mr Modi.