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India's opposition figure Gandhi vows to keep fighting after removal from parliament

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Rahul Gandhi, leader of India's main opposition Congress party, arrives at the New Delhi airport on March 23. (Photo by Reuters)

Top Indian opposition figure and Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi has pledged to continue fighting to preserve India’s democratic values, after he was expelled from the parliament following a defamation case over his remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Gandhi, 52, who represented a constituency in southern Kerala state as a member of the Congress party, was stripped of his role on Friday, a day after he was convicted of defaming Modi.

He blamed his expulsion on his demands for an investigation into a key business ally of Modi.

"I will do whatever I have to do to defend the democratic nature of this country," he told reporters.

"They are used to everybody being scared of them," he said, in reference to the ruling party. "I am not scared of them."

A court in the western city of Surat sentenced Gandhi to two years in prison on Thursday in the defamation case.

Indian parliamentary rules say that a member loses his or her seat if convicted of a crime and sentenced to two or more years in prison.

In 2019, during an election campaign Gandhi had asked why "all thieves have Modi as (their) common surname," for which the prosecution took underway.

Gandhi, after being announced the sentence, walked out on bail after his lawyers vowed to appeal.

Following the disqualification of Gandhi, several opposition members blocked proceedings in Parliament on Friday and later tried to march to the president's palace in support of the former member, holding a sign that read: "Democracy in danger."

"The country is witnessing a rule of autocracy," said A. Raja, an opposition lawmaker.

Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters on Friday that the verdict represented the "emasculation of democratic institutions by the ruling party".

"I have been disqualified because the prime minister... is scared of the next speech that is going to come on Adani," Gandhi told reporters, as he referred to the Indian business tycoon Gautam Adani who recently nosedived from the second richest person to the 28th, after a financial report revealed that he committed the biggest corporate scam in history.

"I will continue to ask the question -- what is the prime minister's relationship with Mr. Adani?," he added.

Modi is considered a close aide of Adani, and especially after coming to power, he is accused of helping Adani reach the position of the second-richest person in the world.

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