Indian National Congress Party senior leader Rahul Gandhi addresses the media in New Delhi on Saturday after being sentenced to two years in jail in a 2019 criminal defamation case. Photo by Rajat Gupta/EPA-EFE
March 25 (UPI) -- Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi fired back at India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party Saturday, declaring that not even a jail sentence or disqualification from Parliament will silence him.
The scion of the legendary Indian political family and leader of the country's National Congress Party said made the statements at a news conference in New Delhi a day after he was handed a two-year prison sentence as the result of a defamation case and subsequently disqualified from holding office.
"Democracy is finished in this country," Gandhi said. "The people of the country cannot speak what is on their mind and the institutions are under attack," he said while blaming his prosecution on a corrupt relationship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and billionaire industrialist Gautam Adani.
That relationship, he claimed, is "the foundation" of the issue, reasserting his allegations of undue influence held by the Adani Group over Modi's government on defense contracts and other matters.
Gandhi, the great-grandson of India's first prime minister, was initially convicted in 2019 for comments made about Modi, drawing a parallel between his surname and a fugitive diamond tycoon and a corrupt cricket official.
"Why do all these thieves have Modi as their surname? Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi," he said at the time.
Gandhi and his supporters say the conviction and sentence are entirely politically motivated, and reprisal for exposing the government's "dark deeds."
Rules stipulate the 52-year-old is now banned from running for parliament.
Gandhi remains free on bail for 30 days and said he will appeal.
A spokesperson for Gandhi's National Congress party said the charges were "legally unsustainable conclusions."
Gandhi on Saturday vowed the latest developments would not stop his message.
"Disqualify me, disqualify me for life. Put me inside jail. I will keep going. I will not stop," he said.
"(The) prime minister is scared of my next speech in Parliament ... he is terrified. They don't want that speech in Parliament."
The speech is a reference to Gandhi's attempt to publicize the relationship between Modi and Adani.
"When somebody is guilty of something, they want to distract everybody's attention. If you catch a thief, the first thing he says is that I didn't do it. The second thing he says is, 'Look there, look there, look there, look there.' That is what the BJP is doing," Gandhi said.