India’s Parliament has reinstated Rahul Gandhi, a top opposition leader, as a lawmaker after the country’s top court halted his criminal defamation conviction. Gandhi’s reinduction is expected to strengthen the opposition’s efforts to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government ahead of a no-confidence motion. The motion comes in response to the deadly ethnic violence that has plagued India’s northeastern state of Manipur for over three months.
Gandhi, a fierce critic of Modi and his main challenger in the 2024 elections, was initially ousted from Parliament following his conviction by a magistrate’s court in March. However, the Supreme Court has temporarily stayed his conviction and will review Gandhi’s appeal before issuing a final ruling. This means that Gandhi will be eligible to contest next year’s general elections unless the final court decision goes against him.
The defamation case against Gandhi stems from comments he made in a 2019 election speech, in which he asked why all thieves have Modi as their surname. He then referred to three unrelated individuals named Modi: a fugitive Indian diamond tycoon, a cricket executive banned from the Indian Premier League, and the prime minister himself. The case was filed by Purnesh Modi, a member of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat state who is not related to the prime minister.
Gandhi was originally sentenced to two years in prison, but his prison sentence was suspended in April. Although the conviction was upheld by the Gujarat state High Court, Gandhi filed an appeal in the Supreme Court last month. The case against Gandhi, who is the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and a scion of the dynastic Congress party, was widely criticized as an attack on democracy and free speech by opponents of Modi. The swift removal of Gandhi from Parliament shocked the Indian political landscape.
Critics of Modi argue that democracy has been in decline since he assumed power in 2014, accusing his government of promoting a Hindu nationalist agenda. However, the government denies these claims and asserts that its policies benefit all citizens of India. India, as the world’s largest democracy with a population of 1.4 billion, continues to grapple with these debates.
The Nehru-Gandhi family, to which Rahul Gandhi belongs, has produced two other prime ministers. Indira Gandhi, his grandmother, was assassinated while in office, as was his father, Rajiv Gandhi, after his term as prime minister.