NEW DELHI (Reuters): Members of India’s main opposition Congress party will take to the streets on Friday to protest against leader Rahul Gandhi’s conviction for defamation, party officials said a day after a magistrate’s court sentenced Gandhi to a two-year jail term.
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 to debunk economic policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
He was convicted by a court in the western state of Gujarat, which also gave him bail and suspended the sentence for one month.
That gives Gandhi time to appeal but he faces immediate disqualification from parliament following the conviction.
Two senior Congress leaders said that Gandhi will respect the local court’s verdict and will not attend parliament. “It is a fact that his membership stands disqualified for now but we will challenge the conviction in the court to ensure he can attend parliament proceedings,” said a federal lawmaker who is also a Congress leader.
The current parliament session began on January 31 and is scheduled to conclude on April 6.
Officials in the Congress party said they are also depending on regional opposition parties to galvanize political support against the verdict.
“It is a critical political test for Gandhi and we are depending on regional parties to support the Congress and stand against Modi’s party,” said a second senior Congress leader on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press. The president’s office confirmed that Congress leaders have sought a meeting with President Draupadi Murmu to lodge a protest against the conviction with the top constitutional executive.