India’s parliament has reinstated opposition Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi as a member after the Supreme Court suspended his conviction for defamation, the government said in a notice.
Gandhi’s suspension “has ceased to operate subject to further judicial pronouncements,” Utpal Kumar Singh, secretary-general of the lower parliament house said in a statement on Monday.
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Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather were prime ministers, was convicted in March in a case brought by a legislator from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over 2019 comments deemed insulting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others with the same name, including the legislator.
Gandhi asked, “Why do all thieves have Modi as their surname?” He then referred to three well-known and unrelated Modis: a fugitive Indian diamond tycoon, a cricket executive banned from the Indian Premier League, and the prime minister.
The case was filed by Purnesh Modi, who is a BJP legislator in Gujarat state but is not related to the prime minister.
Upon his conviction, Gandhi lost his parliamentary seat and was jailed for two years but granted bail.
The Supreme Court last week suspended the conviction, allowing Gandhi to return to parliament and contest a general election due next year.
Gandhi, 53, has sought to overturn the conviction but his challenge has yet to be heard by a lower court.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said the reinstatement was “a welcome step”, and called on the government to concentrate on “governance rather than denigrating democracy by targeting opposition leaders”.
Fellow Congress party MP Shashi Tharoor welcomed the announcement “with enormous relief”.
“He can now resume his duties in the Lok Sabha [lower house of parliament] to serve the people of India and his constituents… A victory of justice and for our democracy,” he said.
Over recent months, Gandhi has helped his Congress party open talks with other opposition parties for a grand alliance to take on the BJP in the general election, due by May next year.
Gandhi’s conviction and suspension from parliament was widely condemned by Modi’s opponents as the latest assault against democracy and free speech by a government seeking to crush dissent.
The speed of his removal from parliament had shocked Indian political experts.
India, with 1.4 billion people, is the world’s largest democracy. However, Modi’s critics say democracy has been in retreat since he came to power in 2014. They accuse his government of pursuing a Hindu nationalist agenda. The government denies that, saying its policies benefit all Indians.
Gandhi’s reinduction as a member of parliament is likely to strengthen the opposition’s effort to corner Modi’s government ahead of a no-confidence motion this week over deadly ethnic violence that has roiled India’s northeastern state of Manipur for more than three months.