India's disqualified Gandhi says he will not stop asking Modi questions
Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi said on Saturday he had been disqualified from parliament because he has been asking the prime minister tough questions about his relationship with Gautam Adani, founder of the embattled Adani conglomerate.
Gandhi, who represented India’s main opposition Congress party in parliament, lost his seat on Friday, a day after a court in the western state of Gujarat convicted him in a defamation case and sentenced him to two years in jail.
The court granted him bail and suspended his jail sentence for 30 days allowing him to appeal.
The defamation case was filed in connection with comments Gandhi made in a speech that many deemed insulting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gandhi's party and its allies criticised the court ruling as politically motivated.
"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,” Gandhi told a news conference at the headquarters of his Congress party in New Delhi.
"They don’t want that speech to be in parliament, that’s the issue,” Gandhi said in his first comments since the conviction and disqualification.
Gandhi, 52, the scion of a dynasty that has given India three prime ministers, did not elaborate on why Modi might not like his next speech.
A spokesperson for Modi's ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the party had no immediate response.
Gandhi's once-dominant Congress controls less than 10% of the elected seats in parliament's lower house and has been decimated by the BJP in two successive general elections, most recently in 2019.
India's next general election is due by mid-2024 and Gandhi has recently been trying to revive the fortunes of his party.
Gandhi brushed aside his disqualification from parliament.
"I am not scared of this disqualification ... I will continue to ask the question, 'what is the prime minister’s relationship with Mr Adani?’,” he said.
Adani's apples-to-airports group is trying to rebuild investor confidence after US short-seller Hindenburg Research accused it of stock manipulation and improper use of tax havens — charges the company has denied.
Hindenburg's January 24 report eroded more than $100 billion in the value of the company's shares.
Modi's rivals say the prime minister and his ruling BJP have longstanding ties with the Adani group, going back nearly two decades from when Modi was chief minister of the western state of Gujarat.
Both Gautam Adani — who was the world’s third richest person until the stock rout that followed the Hindenburg report — and Modi come from the coastal state.
Gandhi's Congress party has questioned investments made by state-run firms in Adani companies and the handover of the management of six airports to the group in recent years, even though it had no experience in the sector.
The Adani group has denied receiving any special favours from the government and government ministers have dismissed such opposition suggestions as “wild allegations”, saying regulators would look into any wrongdoing.
Congress, and its opposition allies have called for a parliamentary investigation.
Modi’s enormous popularity remains intact despite the accusations of undue favours to the Adani group, approval ratings have shown.