Decisive Defeat of the BJP on the Ground

The stay granted by the Supreme Court on the conviction of Rahul Gandhi in the Modi surname defamation case marks a turning point in India's unfolding political situation. The Modi government has mastered the art of legitimising its relentless assault on the Constitution and subversion of democracy by pushing it through Parliament and various constitutional bodies and securing seals of judicial approval for all its steps. The script of the so-called Modi surname case followed this sinister trajectory till it reached the Supreme Court. In a defamation suit filed in Gujarat for a speech delivered in Karnataka in a 2019 election rally, Rahul Gandhi was punished with the highest possible sentence on 23 March 2023 and the sentence was upheld by all levels of the judicial system in Gujarat till the Supreme Court finally stayed it on 4 August.

The Supreme Court asked the most basic question that the Gujarat High Court and lower courts should have asked. A sentence of two years is the highest possible punishment in a criminal defamation suit. What justification is there to award the highest sentence? The question becomes all the more pertinent because if the duration of the sentence had been shorter by a day, it would not have led to Rahul Gandhi's disqualification as a Member of Parliament. Far from considering this basic aspect of the sentence, the Gujarat courts, especially the High Court, invoked legally untenable points, seeking to present Rahul Gandhi as a habitual offender and this alleged act of defamation as a case of moral turpitude! Only the other day the Supreme Court had set aside another Gujarat High Court order rejecting the bail of activist Teesta Setalvad. The SC had found that Gujarat HC order full of contradictions. In an obvious reference to the dubious judgements made recently by the Gujarat HC, the Supreme Court while staying the conviction of Rahul Gandhi in the defamation suit said recent Gujarat HC verdicts made 'interesting reading'.

The defamation law has become a convenient tool in the hands of the super-rich and the powerful to protect their power and privilege and target critics and opponents. In the Modi era it has also become a political weapon for the government to target its opponents. In the Modi surname defamation suit, the case had been filed way back in 2019. There was a period when the petitioner himself had sought and secured a stay on the proceedings saying he did not have enough evidence! It was in the wake of the Hindenburg disclosures about the corporate fraud perpetrated by the Adani group and Rahul Gandhi's speech in Parliament questioning the Modi-Adani nexus that the case was revived and disposed speedily by the Surat CJM court. The Lok Sabha secretariat acted with unprecedented alacrity to disqualify Rahul Gandhi in less than a day and evict him from his allocated official residence within a month. However much the Modi regime may now try and underplay the significance of the Supreme Court stay on Rahul Gandhi's conviction, it has been widely perceived as a setback to the regime's ugly and sinister political design.

The reinstatement of Rahul Gandhi as the Member of Parliament from Wayanad is however not going to lead to any de-escalation of the BJP's relentless war on the parliamentary system of democracy and its abuse of the institutions and tenets of constitutional rule of law. Even as Rahul Gandhi was reinstated after remaining disqualified for more than four months, the Lok Sabha secretariat allowed convicted BJP MP from Etawah in UP crucial time to secure a stay on his conviction and continue as MP without any interruption. More ironically, the very day Rahul Gandhi returned to Parliament, the Modi government managed to get the draconian bill stripping the elected Delhi government of its powers passed in the Rajya Sabha. In spite of not having a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the Modi government secured the numbers by cajoling and coercing regional parties like the BJD, YSRCP and TDP into supporting this patently anti-democratic and anti-constitutional bill. The AAP, which had rushed to support the Modi government on the draconian move to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its constitutional rights and even statehood, has now realised the hard way that the attack on Kashmir was in fact a precursor to this attack on Delhi. One wonders when regional parties still supporting the Modi regime will realise the harm they are doing to the country's shared stake in constitutional democracy and its federal framework. In what must be seen as an ominous portent, former CJI and currently Rajya Sabha MP Ranjan Gogoi while supporting the bill went so far as to call the 'basic structure' of the Constitution itself debatable!

The assault on democracy, its constitutional foundation and federal framework, is not being carried out merely by the state or through institutional abuse or legal and political tricks. Across India we can see orchestrated relentless violence in every social sphere. Manipur has been burning for more than three months now and the PM refuses to even speak about it in Parliament. And in a repeat of the anti-Muslim violence in Delhi in February 2020 and earlier in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, we now see the BJP turning the Mewat region of Haryana into yet another laboratory of communal polarisation and systematic attack on the Muslim community. The planned and orchestrated 'rioting' by Hindutva mobs these days continues as 'bulldozing' by the state and before the Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered a halt, the Khattar government had already demolished dozens of Muslim houses and shops in Nuh in the name of 'clearing encroachments'. The growing insecurity has already forced many Muslim migrants from Bihar and West Bengal to leave Haryana and return to their home states.

Defeat of the BJP on the Ground

The Nuh violence, the attack on the Gurugram mosque and the brutal murder of the young prayer-leader Maulana Saad and the bulldozer-driven demolition and persecution campaign are all aimed at intensifying the reign of terror and sharpening the communal divide ahead of the crucial next round of elections. BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya has made it quite explicit in one of his campaign speeches in Madhya Pradesh. According to Vijayvargiya, the BJP will not hesitate to take the lives of those who say anything against Bharat Mata - a clear genocidal threat to whoever is dubbed anti-national by the Sangh brigade. After nine years in power, the Sangh-BJP establishment now displays an alarming level of arrogance and aggression, which is exacerbated by the fear of losing power and its innate contempt for democracy and the people. The passage of the Delhi bill in the Rajya Sabha is only likely to increase the Modi regime's arrogance of power and the united opposition will have to defeat it on the ground by standing with the oppressed and the persecuted and mobilising the people to give a fitting rebuff to the arrogant Sangh-BJP brigade in the coming elections.