Germany keeping close eye on issue; BJP accuses Cong of 'inviting foreign interference'

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addresses the Congress' 85th Plenary session on its 3rd day, in Nava Raipur, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023. Photo: PTI

New Delhi: After the US, yet another foreign power is reported to be keeping a close eye on the tussle between the ruling BJP and the Congress over the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi from Lok Sabha.

This time, Germany has 'taken note' of the issue, triggering a fresh political slugfest here on Thursday with the ruling party accusing the opposition party of "inviting foreign powers" to interfere in internal matters.

The BJP attack came after senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh thanked the German foreign ministry and Richard Walker, Chief International Editor of Deutsche Welle, for "taking note of how democracy is being compromised in India through the persecution of Rahul Gandhi".

Singh also tagged a tweet by Walker in which the senior journalist had posted a video of a German foreign ministry spokesperson reacting to Gandhi's disqualification.

At a press briefing, Germany's foreign ministry spokesperson said, "We have taken note of the verdict of first instance against Indian opposition politician Rahul Gandhi as well as the suspension of his parliamentary mandate."

"To our knowledge, Mr Gandhi is in a position to appeal the verdict. It will then become clear whether this verdict will stand and whether the suspension of his mandate has any basis," the spokesperson was quoted as saying by Deutsche Welle.

Germany expects that "standards of judicial independence and fundamental democratic principles" will equally apply to the proceedings against Rahul Gandhi, the spokesperson added.

A host of BJP leaders attacked the Congress and Singh, accusing the party of "inviting foreign interference" in internal affairs.

Sharing a screenshot of Digivijaya Singh's tweet, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said, "Thank you Rahul Gandhi for inviting foreign powers for interference into India's internal matters."

"Remember, Indian Judiciary can't be influenced by foreign interference. India won't tolerate 'foreign influence' anymore because our Prime Minister is:- Shri @narendramodi Ji," Rijiju said.

Appearing to be in damage control mode, the Congress said it firmly believes that India's democratic processes themselves have to deal with the threats posed to its democracy. It also hit out at the BJP, accusing it of attempting to divert attention from the Adani issue.

Without taking names, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said on Twitter,"@INCIndia firmly believes that India's democratic processes themselves have to deal with the threats posed to our democracy by Mr. Modi's assault on our institutions & his politics of vendetta, intimidation, threats & harassment."

The Congress and opposition parties will take him on fearlessly, Ramesh said. Attacking Rijiju for his comments, Congress' media department head Pawan Khera said, "Mr. Rijiju, why divert from the main issue? The issue is that the Prime Minister cannot answer Rahul Gandhi's questions about Adani."

Instead of "misleading" people, please answer the questions, Khera said.

Slamming the Congress over Singh's tweet, Information and Broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur said,"disgrace to nation, @INCIndia & @RahulGandhi don't believe to fight India's democratic, political and legal battle within country, hence, invite foreign powers to interfere in our internal matter. But New India headed by @narendramodi Ji will not tolerate any foreign intervention."

Finance Minister Niramala Sitharaman also lambasted the Congress over Singh's tweet.

"Apparent that @INCIndia wants foreign interference in our affairs. Sign Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Communist Party of China with opaque contents. During interactions abroad, plead for help to change government. Thank them when help forthcoming. Any more proof needed?" she tweeted.

Commerce minister Piyush Goyal retweeted Sitharaman's comments.

Tagging Singh's tweet, BJP's foreign affairs department head leader Vijay Chauthaiwale said on Twitter,"look how happy @digvijaya_28 ji with comments from Germany. It only shows how they are desperate to involve external agencies in domestic matters."

BJP's IT department head Amit Malviya also tagged Singh's tweet and said, "Shameful that Congress continues to lean on foreign agencies and seek their intervention in India's internal affairs."

"Rahul Gandhi had recently sought Europe and US intervention and now it is Digvijay Singh. But Law is the Law Unless somebody thinks Law is not the Law for them," he said.

Gandhi was disqualified from Lok Sabha on March 23 after a court in Gujarat's Surat convicted him in a 2019 defamation case over his 'Modi surname' remark.

Earlier this week, a US state department official had said the United States is watching the court case of Rahul Gandhi. The official observed that the US continues to engage with India on the shared commitment towards democratic principles and the protection of human rights, including freedom of expression.

Speaking at a media event Thursday, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said no foreign diplomat has raised with him the issue of Rahul Gandhi's disqualification from the Lok Sabha, which was an outcome of a law "supported" by the Congress leader in the past.

Earlier this month, Gandhi's remarks during his recent trip to the UK also rocked Parliament. Both Houses failed to transact any significant business in the second half of the budget session.

Gandhi's remarks triggered a political row, with the BJP accusing him of maligning India on foreign soil and seeking foreign interventions, and the Congress hit back at the ruling party by citing instances of Prime Minister Modi raising internal politics abroad.

(With PTI inputs)

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