Rahul Gandhi was sentenced to two years in prison for remarks he made about Narendra Modi by a court in the prime minister’s home state of Gujarat, raising the temperature of Indian politics a year before a national election.
The Surat court convicted Gandhi, 52, the best-known Congress party figure that dominated Indian politics for decades, for comments he made in a 2019 speech in which he asked “why all thieves are called Modi, Modi, Modi”.
The court granted Gandhi bail and suspended the sentence for 30 days to give him time to appeal.
Modi’s dominant Bharatiya Janata party will face voters in April and May 2024 in which the prime minister will seek a third term.
Gandhi, who holds no official position in the party but is its best-known figure, has attacked Modi in recent weeks for his ties to Gautam Adani, the industrialist whose group is under intense scrutiny. precedent after a scathing attack by short seller Hindenburg Research.
Amit Malviya, who heads the BJP’s information and technology department, said on Thursday that Gandhi was “glib and dangerous” and accused him of “making fun of India and Indian people”.
The ruling party has also accused Gandhi of defaming India during a trip to the UK this month in which the opposition figure held high-profile talks at Cambridge University and at Chatham House.
“The cowardly and authoritarian BJP government has been shaken by Rahul Gandhi and the opposition because we expose their black deeds,” Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress party’s chairman, said in a tweet.
Analysts give Congress a slim chance of winning next year’s election. Many in India hold Gandhi, a fourth-generation member of the family that ruled India for decades, responsible for irresponsible leadership and corruption that contributed to his defeats by the BJP in 2014 and 2019.
He resigned as chairman of the Congress party after the 2019 elections. His mother Sonia Gandhi, 76, assumed the role until last year when the party nominated Kharge for the post.
However, some observers said Gandhi had made a slow but noticeable political comeback in recent months, seizing on the Adani affair and economic issues such as India’s stubbornly high unemployment rate as a cudgel against Modi.
Hindenburg’s short seller attack was published shortly after traveling 4,000 km Bharat Jodo Yatra, or “Unite India March”, a trek from the southern tip of the country to Kashmir, in which thousands joined along the route.
“It was a stroke of luck for Gandhi that the Adani scandal broke during the yatrasaid Asim Ali, an independent political analyst. “But in terms of capitalization, I’m not sure it will be an easy task.”