Indian Opposition Leader Disqualified for Modi Comments

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at a ruling against Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, EU leaders’ endorsement of more military support for Ukraine, and violence in protests in France.

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at a ruling against Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, EU leaders’ endorsement of more military support for Ukraine, and violence in protests in France.

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Rahul Gandhi Sentenced to Jail

Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party, the main opposition party in India, was sentenced to two years in prison in a criminal defamation case by a local court.

At an election rally in 2019, Gandhi said, “Why do all these thieves have Modi as their surname? Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi.”

Nirav Modi is a diamond tycoon and fugitive; Lalit Modi, once chief of Indian Premier League cricket, has been banned for life by the country’s cricket board; and Narendra Modi is prime minister of the country.

Gandhi said he was simply trying to draw attention to corruption. He will appeal the decision. A spokesperson for his party called the decision “legally unsustainable.”

The case against him was filed based on a complaint by one Purnesh Modi, who said it defamed the Modi community, and who, like Narendra Modi, is a BJP lawmaker.

Ravinder Kaur, an associate professor of modern South Asian Studies at the University of Copenhagen, noted to Foreign Policy that the court, in sentencing him to two years in prison, was effectively rendering him ineligible from parliament if the decision is upheld, since a person who has served two years cannot serve in parliament under Indian law. (On Friday, India’s parliament disqualified him with immediate effect without waiting for the appeals process to take place.)

But Kaur, author of Brand New Nation, also argues there was a political context.

“Supporters of BJP, they often say, Rahul Gandhi is the biggest vote earner for BJP,” she said, explaining that the opposition leader often says or does counterproductive things. It’s not immediately clear that, even if Gandhi were to be ineligible to run, that his disqualification would necessarily be positive for the ruling party. Nor is it clear that the Congress party will be able to use this incident to build support or awaken voters to threats to democracy and civil society.

Shashi Tharoor—a Congress party politician and former high-ranking U.N. official—put it more bluntly: “This is politics with the gloves off and it bodes ill for our democracy.”

What We’re Following Today 

EU leaders to endorse more military support for Ukraine. Leaders from the European Union endorsed a plan to send 1 million rounds of artillery ammunition over the course of the next 12 months to Ukraine. “Taking into account the security and defense interests of all member states, the European Council welcomes the agreement … to deliver ground-to-ground and artillery ammunition to Ukraine and, if requested, missiles,” read the conclusion of the EU leaders’ meeting. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, on a statement posted to his presidential website, “Not only months and weeks, but also days are important. The faster we act together, the more lives we save.”

Protests continue in France, turn violent. Protests in France against French President Emmanuel Macron’s planned pension reform, which he is pushing through without parliamentary approval using special constitutional powers, continued on Thursday. Over one million people demonstrated. Police fired tear gas and used force.

Keep an Eye On

Albanian PM hits back at British home secretary. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama spoke out against comments made by British Home Secretary Suella Braverman, which he described as a “disgraceful” moment in British politics. Rama is in the country for talks with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and told BBC 4 that he was outraged by Braverman’s comments last year referring to “Albanian criminals.”

“Unfortunately, we have seen ourselves and our community being singled out in this country for purposes of politics. It has been a very, very disgraceful moment for British politics,” he said. “What has been [said] by members of the cabinet, starting with the home secretary, [is] the singling out of our community, which is not something you do in our civilization, and is something that does not represent Britain at all,” he added. “Giving to the crime an ethnic seal is itself a crime.”

Israel passes new law protecting prime minister. On a day of high drama in Israel, the Knesset passed legislation Thursday that limits the conditions according to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be determined to be unfit to govern. The law requires a three-fourths parliamentary or Cabinet majority to remove the prime minister, and stipulates that he could only be removed for psychological or health reasons. The law is thought to make it more difficult for Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, to be impeached.  

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