New Delhi: The Congress party has decided to launch massive, nationwide campaign from Monday to protest against Rahul Gandhi's disqualification.
The party has accused the government of acting with "lightning speed" in disqualifying Rahul Gandhi, saying it amounts to "strangulation of democracy" and alleging that the ruling dispensation is coming out with new techniques to "gag" him.
The party leadership got into a huddle soon after the disqualification was announced by the Lok Sabha Secretariat and decided to fight it legally and politically and launch a countrywide "Jan Andolan" starting Monday.
The Congress also welcomed statements of support by opposition leaders and said Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge has been coordinating with various parties in Parliament and this coordination will be extended outside Parliament as well.
Party MPs earlier staged a protest march till Vijay Chowk and several MPs were detained by the Delhi Police for violation of prohibitory orders and kept at the Kingsway Camp police station before being released in the evening.
Congress leaders react to disqualification
In his first reaction after the disqualification, Rahul Gandhi in a tweet said, "I am fighting for the voice of India. I am ready to pay any price."
His sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra launched an all-out attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying in a tweet in Hindi, "Narendra Modi ji, your sycophants called the son of a martyred prime Minister a traitor, Mir Jafar. One of your Chief Minister raised questions as to who is the father of Rahul Gandhi? Following the custom of Kashmiri Pandits, a son wears 'pagdi' after his father's death, maintaining his family's tradition."
"Insulting the whole family and the Kashmiri Pandit community, you asked in Parliament why we don't keep the name Nehru. But no judge gave you a sentence of two years. Did not disqualify you from the Parliament," she said.
Addressing a press conference at the AICC headquarters, party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the issue of Gandhi's disqualification was both political and legal. "It is a political issue because it signifies the systematic and repetitive emasculation of democratic institutions by the ruling party and the strangulation of democracy itself."
He alleged there have been "unthinkable assaults" on the freedom of speech with people being told that they would face the worst possible consequences -- civil, criminal, incarceration, intimidation and harassment.
"We all know Rahul Gandhi has been speaking inside and outside Parliament fearlessly. He has spoken on social issues, economic issues, political issues without any fear or inhibition...clearly he is paying the price for it," Singhvi said.
"This government is finding new techniques of throttling his voice, gagging him. Rahul Gandhi goes abroad, he is not allowed to speak on grounds of fake nationalism," he alleged, adding, "This is a conspiracy by the BJP against him."
Cong welcomes support of Oppn leaders
After the meet, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh told reporters that the party has decided to launch a people's movement, and alleged that the government has acted with lightning speed to "gag" him.
"We will go all over the country as Rahul Gandhi was deliberately disqualified for raising his voice against the Modi government on the Adani issue, on the government's foreign policy and the clean chit given to China for incursions at the border," Ramesh said, adding that the BJP is rattled with the success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
The Congress leadership has welcomed the statements of support of all opposition leaders, he said, adding, "There was a consensus that we should now take the job of building opposition unity in a systematic way."
Ramesh also raised questions over the manner in which the complainant in the defamation case initially sought to get action on his complaint stayed and soon after Gandhi's speech on the Adani issue in Parliament, got the stay vacated and the case moved forward. "This is no coincidence."
Kharge said the BJP made all efforts to get Rahul Gandhi disqualified as he was speaking the truth.
"This was not a question of backward class, Lalit Modi and Nirav Modi are not of backward class. They are trying to build a perception that Rahul Gandhi spoke against backward class. Gandhi was putting forward the truth before the country so they were not liking it," he said, in an apparent reference to BJP chief J P Nadda's remark that Gandhi had compared OBC communities to thieves.
The BJP, however, dismissed the charges and termed the disqualification "lawful".
Announcing his disqualification, the Lok Sabha Secretariat in a notification said that it was effective from March 23, the day of his conviction.
On Thursday, a court in Surat sentenced Gandhi to two years in jail in a defamation case, filed on a complaint by BJP MLA Purnesh Modi for his remark, "How come all thieves have Modi as the common surname?"
Following his disqualification, Gandhi would not be able to contest elections for eight years unless a higher court stays his conviction and sentence.
(With PTI inputs.)