NEW DELHI (AP) — Members of opposition parties dressed in black disrupted India’s Parliament on Monday and protested in the capital, New Delhi, after Rahul Gandhi, a key opposition leader and fierce critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was expelled from the legislature last week.
Hundreds of supporters of Gandhi’s Congress party demonstrated in the heart of New Delhi and dozens were detained by police. Lawmakers from 18 opposition parties also protested together outside Parliament, donning black clothes to symbolize mourning and waving posters that warned India’s democracy is in danger.
Gandhi’s expulsion on Friday came a day after a local court convicted him of defamation and sentenced him to two years in prison for mocking Modi’s surname in an election speech in 2019. The actions against Gandhi, the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister, were widely denounced by opponents of Modi as assaults against democracy and free speech by a government seeking to quash dissent. His removal from Parliament also delivered a major blow to the Congress party ahead of national elections next year.
“The government wants to suppress the opposition and their voice,” said Mallikarjun Kharge, president of the Congress party.
Over the weekend, Gandhi said he is being targeted for raising questions about Modi’s relationship to Gautam Adani, a coal tycoon who until recently was Asia’s richest man.
Hindenburg Research, a U.S. financial research firm, accused the Adani Group in January of stock price manipulation and fraud running into billions of dollars. Since then, Gandhi has pushed for an investigation into Adani’s sprawling businesses, whose market value has since plummeted by tens of billions of dollars. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party says he has no links to Adani.
The protesting opposition lawmakers backed Gandhi on Monday by renewing calls for a parliamentary probe into the Adani Group.
Gandhi said he was not bothered about losing his seat in Parliament. “My job is to defend the institutions of the country and the voice of people,” he said over the weekend.
A court in Modi’s home state of Gujarat convicted Gandhi last week over a 2019 speech in which he asked, “Why do all thieves have Modi as their surname?” Gandhi then referred to three well-known and unrelated Modis: a fugitive Indian diamond tycoon, a cricket executive banned from the Indian Premier League tournament and the prime minister.
Under Indian law, a criminal conviction and prison sentence of two years or more are grounds for expulsion from Parliament. Gandhi was granted bail for 30 days to allow him to appeal the decision, which Gandhi says he will do.