A Surat court, in Gujarat has thrown the Congress into a tizzy. Opposition leader and its former President Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified as an Lok Sabha MP on Friday, following the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate HH Varma, 24 hours earlier convicted him in a 2019 criminal defamation case for his remark, “How come all thieves have Modi as the common surname?”at an election rally in Karnataka. Found guilty under IPC sections 499 and 500, the court, however, granted him bail and suspended the sentence of two years jail for 30 days to allow him to appeal in a higher court. If a higher court does not stay his conviction and sentence, Rahul would not be able to contest elections for eight years! Gandhi, the court had said could have limited his speech to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choksi, and Anil Ambani, but he “intentionally” made a statement that hurt individuals carrying the Modi surname, and thereby committed criminal defamation. It was hearing a complaint filed by BJP MLA Purnesh Modi. Following the verdict, BJP functionaries from ‘Teli’ (oil-pressing) caste and leaders of the community who largely have the surname of ‘Modi’ demanded an apology from Rahul and warned of an agitation.
However, Rahul has refused to apologise. He tweeted: “My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God, non-violence the means to get it — Mahatma Gandhi.” The Congress will be filing an appeal as well as fighting back politically, as such cases it claimed “were an outcome of the BJP’s malafide intent and malice to crush any political dissent in India.”The silver siling is that Opposition leaders of DMK, TMC, AAP, NCP, JMM, RJD,among others are on the same page. Statements of support are pouring in: “The action against Gandhi is an occasion for fight, not fright and all parties opposed to BJP must come together without delay”; “In PM Modi’s New India, opposition leaders have become prime target. While BJP leaders with criminal antecedents are inducted into the Cabinet, Opposition leaders are disqualified for their speeches”; “Today, we have witnessed a new low for our constitutional democracy”; “it’s murder of democracy and this is the beginning of the end of dictatorship”; “It has become a crime to call a thief a thief, while those looting the country are out”; “The sentence against Rahulwas announced yesterday and within a day he is now disqualified from Lok Sabha! Nothing short of a surgical strike on democracy! Time for the entire opposition to rally against this unbridled emergency!” The saffron party said that it was a legal issue and not that of the BJP! Anyone getting fooled? The big question is what course this defamation and disqualification case take. For starters, should one read signs of the Rahul Gandhi case boomeranging into a long drawn “Opposition jodo yatra”?
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BJP New State Chiefs
Four States have new BJP Presidents ahead of General elections 2024. The change in guard on Thursday last is well-thought out though caught many by surprise. In Rajasthan, the party has sought to halt infighting, by replacing Satish Punia with two-term Lok Sabha member CP Joshi, also a Brahmin face. Punia didn’t have the best of relations with former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, who incidentally continues to be the party’s most formidable leader, though Delhi had reservations. Indications are equations are improving. Having broken ties with JD(U) in Bihar, the BJP has replaced Sanjay Jaiswal with MLC Samrat Chaudhary, a Kurmi leader, to maximise its outreach among OBC communities. In Odisha, former minister and MP, Manmohan Samal, takes over. He’s better-known faces, more aggressive with his politics bearing a distinct Hindutva mark. In Delhi, working State President Virender Sachdeva takes full-time charge even though he’s low-key, his organisational skills have ‘infused a sense of cohesion in the unit, pulled in different directions by local heavyweights.’ Will the new team boost BJP’s organisational machinery and consolidate support base, time will tell.
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Punjab’s Hot Chase
Punjab police’ hot chase to nab pro-Khalistan preacher Amritpal Singh shows cracks in AAP governance. Clearly,it’s a blunder with authorities turning a blind eye to warning signals—since February 23, when Singh stormed a police station in Ajnala. Invoking NSA against him, after his escape on March 18, when a belated go-ahead was given to arrest him, is waking up too late. In the backdrop that the stringent act is merrily invoked by governments against journalists and human rights’ activists at the drop of a hat. While the Punjab & Haryana High Court has rapped the State police over “intelligence failure” after a petition was filed for his ‘release’ from alleged police custody, there’s also an unfortunate disconnect in New Delhi. Union Home Ministry perhaps should have prodded the State more, as the Ajnala incident showed undercurrents of Punjab during 80s and 1990s? Instead of working in tandem, the AAP and BJP leadership then traded charges. Now an alert has been sent to all States as chief of ‘Waris Panjab De’gives the slip from a high-end Mercedes to switching cars to a mobike and changing his appearance. Will the hunt be successful?
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Delhi’s Poster War
What’s the big deal in putting up posters? A lot would say AAP in Delhi. The police arrested six persons including two owners of a printing press and registered 49 FIRs on Wednesday last for putting up posters reading ‘Modi Hatao, Desh Bachao’ (Remove Modi, Save the Nation) across the capital’s walls and electricity poles on Sunday. The FIRs were under Delhi Prevention of Defacement of Property Act and Press and Registration of Books Act. So far ‘20,000 of 50,000 posters’ ordered were seized. A livid Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal reacted: “They registered an FIR over a poster! Why is Modi ji so scared! This is a normal poster, and anybody can put it up in a democracy. Such a scared and insecure PM. I think he wakes up every morning thinking who he can put in jail.” Plus, he wondered: ‘Is the PM’s health ok?…he’s suffering from a sleeping disorder, and should consult a good doctor…Tell PM to sleep because if he is sleeping for 3 hours it’s a problem.”
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No Online Gambling
No online gambling! On Thursday last, The Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Online Gambling and Regulation of Online Games Ordinance, 2022 was unanimously passed by the Assembly, despite objections from Governor Ravi. The bill was first passed on 19 October 2022, but was returned by Ravi on March 6 questioning the Assembly’s competence to frame such a law. A determined Chief Minister Stalin appealed to the House saying: “This is a bill passed not just with the mind, but also our hearts.” He referred to 41 people having committed suicide after losing huge money in gambling. Seen as a rebuff to Governor, Stalin said: “government received 10,785 emails from public of which only 27 were against the ban; it formulated suggestions on a report by a team of retired Justice K Chandru; State has every right to “streamline, regulate and protect people” living within its jurisdiction; cited Union Minister Anurag Thakur’s written response in Parliament underlining state’s powers to legislate on betting/gambling; and summed up with “this government can’t function without a conscience.” Best bet alright, but Stalin must ensure the ban is implemented. —INFA