Smarting from the Rahul Gandhi conviction in a defamation case, the Congress called a conferral of opposition leaders today. Members of 12 opposition parties met in the office of Congress chief and Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge in parliament. Rahul Gandhi arrived at the Lok Sabha this morning, but left soon after as the house was adjourned till 12 pm due to protests.
Around 11:20 am today, all opposition parties will march from Parliament to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, said the Congress. The party said it has sought time from President Droupadi Murmu to present their case.
Rahul Gandhi, 52, was found guilty of defamation for a 2019 campaign trail remark implying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a criminal. However, he was granted bail and his sentence was suspended for 30 days to let him appeal the decision.
"This is not just a legal issue, it is also a very serious political issue, which is related to the future of our democracy. This is a great example of Modi government's politics of vengeance, politics of threats, politics of intimidation and politics of harassment," senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh told reporters after the party met last evening to discuss its strategy.
The Surat court's verdict is the latest legal action against opposition party figures and institutions seen as critical of the Modi government.
Mr Ramesh said the meeting at Congress chief M Kharge's residence lasted around two hours, and it was decided that the Party chief would hold a meeting with all Pradesh Congress chiefs and Congress Legislature Party leaders in the evening and plan agitations in states.
Beginning Monday, the principal opposition party will also hold protests in Delhi and other states over the matter.
"We will fight this legally as well. We will use the rights that the law gives us, but this is also a political contest. We will fight it directly, we will not back down, we will not be afraid, we will also make it a big political issue," Mr Ramesh added.
The defamation case verdict is "erroneous and unsustainable" and will be challenged in a higher court, the Congress has said, expressing hope that the judgment will be stayed and quashed.
The Supreme Court in a 2013 verdict had said that any MP or MLA stands disqualified from the time of his conviction if a sentence of two or more years is pronounced.
Legal experts say with his conviction and the two-year sentencing, Rahul Gandhi stands "automatically" disqualified. An announcement from the Lok Sabha secretariat, however, is due.
The case against Rahul Gandhi stemmed from a remark made during the 2019 election campaign, in which the 52-year-old had asked why "all thieves have Modi as (their) common surname".
In his first comment after the verdict, Mr Gandhi quoted Mahatma Gandhi, tweeting in Hindi, "My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God, non-violence the means to get it."