|Labeling his disqualification from the Lok Sabha as a “panic reaction” of the government, which was afraid of his “next speech” on industrialist Gautam Adani in Parliament, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi called it the “best gift” the government could give him.
With Youth Congress cadres raising slogans on the lawns of the party’s headquarters at 24, Akbar Road in the capital, and facing a packed hall of media persons, Mr. Gandhi addressed a 30 minute-long press conference where he underlined the “close relationship” between Mr. Adani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, alluding to a direct connection between the ruling party and the alleged fraudulent financial transactions in Mr. Adani’s shell companies.
Mr. Gandhi dismissed his “disqualification” as a non-event, insisting that he would continue his work of speaking the truth whether he is inside or outside Parliament.
“Please understand why I have been disqualified… I have been disqualified because the Prime Minister is scared of my next speech on Adani, I have seen it in his eyes. He is terrified of the next speech and he doesn’t want my next speech to be in Parliament,” Mr. Gandhi said. That is why, he added, the BJP had first tried to “distract” by raising his alleged “anti-India” narrative in London, and then came the “disqualification”. Raising the rhetorical stakes, he declared that he would not be cowed by a “prison term”.
The “drama”, as he described it, began with his speech in Parliament delivered on February 7 as part ofthe Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address where the Wayanad MP had asked a set of questions to the government.
“I asked Prime Minister very specific set of questions. My question was, ‘₹20,000 crore or $3 billion that came into the shell companies owned by Mr. Adani. Mr Adani could not have generated this money, he is in infrastructure business. Where did this money come from, whose money is it?’,” he said. Mr. Gandhi claimed that the government was rattled by the evidence that he produced on the floor of the House about Mr. Modi’s relationship with Mr. Adani, including the photographs of them flying together in aircraft owned by the Adani group. His speech was expunged from the parliamentary record..
This was followed with the “distraction”, as he labelled it, of blaming him for making “anti-India” statements in London. “BJP Ministers lied about me in Parliament. They made statements to distract from the Adani issue. The whole game — disqualification and other statements — is to distract from the central question on ‘Whose money is it?’ They claim that I asked foreign forces to help India, most ridiculous statement. I have never made such a statement. You can look at all the conversations I had in United Kingdom, not one such statement was made. In fact, I said that it is India’s problem and India has to resolve it,” he added.
The Congress leader claimed that he was not allowed to counter the allegations made by the Ministers on the floor of the House, despite his repeated appeals to Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla. Mr. Birla, he said, told him outright that he could not be allowed to speak.
Supreme Court urged to remove criminal defamation as grounds for automatic disqualification of lawmakers
A Ph.D. student from Kerala on March 25 urged the Supreme Court to remove “criminal defamation” as a ground to “automatically” expel parliamentarians.
Aabha Muralidharan said parliamentarians are the voice of the people they represent. Their expulsion has a “chilling effect on the right of representation” of their constituents.
The petitioner, represented by advocates Deepak Prakash and Sriram Parakkat, said the immediate reason for her petition is the ‘automatic disqualification’ of Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi on Friday, within 24 hours of a Surat court finding him guilty of criminal defamation for his comment “why all thieves have Modi surname”. Mr. Gandhi was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
He was disqualified the very next day, on March 24, on the basis of a 2013 verdict of the Supreme Court in Lily Thomas versus Union of India. This judgment had laid down that a prison sentence of not less than two years would attract the immediate disqualification of a lawmaker under the Representation of People Act, 1951.
“The offence of criminal defamation must be excepted from the sweep of the judgment in Lily Thomas… The freedom of speech and expression enjoyed by a Member of the Parliament is an extension of the voice of millions of his supporters. If criminal defamation, which technically has a maximum punishment of only two years, is not removed from the sweeping effect of the judgment in Lily Thomas, it will have a chilling effect on the right of representation of the citizens,” Ms. Muralidharan argued in her petition.
She pointed out that the Constitution makers had never intended to use criminal defamation as a “reasonable restriction” on free speech.
“While the First Amendment to the Constitution was brought in 1951, it did not specifically include criminal defamation in Article 19 (2) as a reasonable restriction to the freedom of speech and expression,” the petition contended.
It said the ‘automatic disqualification’ operates like a blanket ban. It does not distinguish between bailable and non-bailable or cognisable and non-cognisable offences categorised by the Code of Criminal Procedure.
“The operations of Lily Thomas are being blatantly misused for wreaking personal vengeance in political parties. The present scenario provides a blanket disqualification, irrespective of the nature, gravity, and seriousness of the offences, allegedly against the Member concerned,” the petition said.
The “automatic” disqualification stands against the principles of natural justices since various convictions are reversed at the appellate stage, and under such circumstances, the valuable time of a lawmaker discharging his duties towards the public at large would be rendered futile.
“Factors like nature, gravity, role, moral turpitude and the role of the accused ought to be examined while considering disqualification under the 1951 Act,” the petition said
Courtesy The Hindu