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Home > 2023 > India: Lurches Closer to “Opposition-Mukt Democracy”!? | Sukla (...)

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 13, March 25, 2023

India: Lurches Closer to “Opposition-Mukt Democracy”!? | Sukla Sen

Saturday 25 March 2023, by Sukla Sen


by Sukla Sen

While all eyes were riveted on the unfolding tumultuous scenes in the ongoing Budget session of the Indian Parliament over the unrelenting opposition demands for a discussion on and a JPC probe into the Hindenburg report concerning Adani group of companies accusing the group of brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud — also specifically covering the alleged Modi-Adani nexus — and the persistent demands of the BJP MPs blocking proceedings in both the houses demanding apology from Rahul Gandhi for defaming India during his recent lecture tour to London, a Court in Gujarat’s Surat District on Thursday, March 23rd, convicted Congress leader and MP Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case for his rhetorical query “why all thieves share the Modi surname” made during a political campaign in Karol, in Karnataka, on April 13 2019. [1]

The Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate HH Varma sentenced him to two years in jail and also imposed a fine of Rs. 15,000 after finding him guilty under Sections 499 (Defamation), 500 (punishment for Defamation) IPC. He has also secured bail in the case. On Rahul Gandhi’s plea, his sentence has been suspended, and bail has been granted to enable him to move an appeal against his conviction within 30 days. Rahul Gandhi remained present in the court when the court pronounced its verdict. On earlier three occasions too, he was present before the Court. [2]

The case though was in the pipeline for a while, the verdict and the sentence came almost unobtrusively.

It’s only recently, on Feb. 21 this year, the Gujarat High Court had vacated the stay on the proceedings of the case in the court of the CJM as asked for by the complainant Purnesh Modi, a former BJP minister from the state, on whose application the stay had been originally granted by the High Court. [3]

Apparently, the trigger for the change of mind on the part of the complainant is the change in the occupant of the post of the concerned CJM.
Rahul Gandhi himself, on the face of it, reacted rather stoically by tweeting a short quote in Hindi from Mahatma Gandhi that would roughly translate as:

“My religion is based on truth and nonviolence. Truth is my God; nonviolence is the path that leads to Him.” [4]

Never mind. The implication of the verdict and the sentence — pronounced on the very same day in extraordinarily quick succession — is nevertheless going to be only too profound.

As it appears, the concerned judge had no confusion in his mind as regards the task he had set for himself. Not to miss, the case was, finally decided by him and sentencing done in barely a month’s time — after the vacation of the stay by the concerned High Court. That’s (more than?) rocket speed — given the Indian standard.

In fact, the “sentence” (in Gujarati) itself, reportedly, made no whatever bones as regards its intended aim: ”The accused is an MP who addresses the people in the capacity of an MP and impacts a large part of the society and therefore the effects of this crime is much comprehensive in this case. Giving him a reduced sentence would set a bad precedent and send a negative message in society. Keeping that (in) mind the accused is being given the sentence of 2 years of imprisonment.” [5]

Thus, the accused has summarily been handed down the maximum sentence in order to ensure that he loses his LS membership.

The LS Speaker has also acted with matching speed. The very following afternoon, on Friday, the LS Secretary General has issued a notification — to be carried by the Gazette — to the effect that “Shri Rahul Gandhi... stands disqualified from the membership of Lok Sabha”. [6]

As regards the consequences, if the verdict is not cancelled or stayed by any higher court, Rahul Gandhi will also not be allowed to contest elections for the next six years after completing his two-year prison term. [7]

Thus he would be effectively debarred from just not participating in the proceedings of the current parliament but, much more importantly, also direct participation in electoral politics in the near and not-so-near future.

That, it goes without saying, constitutes a huge blow to the only recently rising morale of the resistance — against the current regime and its determined and fiendish push towards an authoritarian order — that started taking shape under the impact of the historic and, arguably, even magical Bharat Jodo Yatra.

The regime, as it looks, is pretty much out to make him suffer a somewhat similar fate to Alexei Navalny — by far the most prominent Putin opponent and popular opposition politician in Russia — currently serving extended jail term and who had also been a victim of poisoning. [8]

Of course, Modi’s India is still some distance away from Putin’s Russia and the Congress is expected to appeal against the conviction and disqualification in an appropriate court — most likely, the Sessions Court.
Be that as it may, the methodology followed to obtain the conviction and disqualification too merits some focused attention. [9]

I. The case after having been initiated remained stayed at the asking of the complainant himself and got revived, again, at his asking when the concerned judge got changed.

II. After revival, the case got decided and (maximum) sentence awarded in a jiffy — within just about a month’s time.

III. Legal experts have wondered how the concerned court decided to consider a defamation complaint by one who has not been specifically named in the alleged defamatory statement. [10]

IV. Then, there’s the issue of territorial jurisdiction too.

All in all, the way the lower judiciary, in this case, conducted itself, again, cannot but draw one’s attention to the continually closing gap between Indian “democracy” under Modi and the one chaperoned by Vladimir Putin.
To sum up, the move has, in one fell swoop, very successfully diverted the national attention away from the Adani scam and the demand for a transparent comprehensive probe into Modi-Adani nexus.

And constitutes a huge blow to the growing opposition to the Modi regime and its project to rid “India” of any substantive democracy and pluralism and thereby radically restructure it.

The challenge now is to build up and offer a matching robust response. Much easier said than done.

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