After a Supreme Court verdict, Rahul Gandhi returned to India’s parliament on Monday, raising the profile of his Congress party and its opposition partners ahead of a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
The vote is not likely to have an impact on Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has a large majority.
However, the return of Gandhi, the scion of one of India’s most renowned political dynasties, to parliament is expected to strengthen the voice of the newly formed, 26-party opposition alliance led by Congress.
Lawmakers are expected to debate, and then vote, on the government’s performance from Tuesday to Thursday.
Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather were prime ministers, was convicted in March in a case brought by a BJP lawmaker over 2019 comments deemed insulting to Modi and others with the same name, including the lawmaker.
Upon his conviction, Gandhi, 53, lost his parliamentary seat and was jailed for two years but granted bail.
The Supreme Court last week suspended the conviction, allowing Gandhi to return to parliament and contest next year’s elections.
On Monday, Gandhi entered the parliament building after showing respect to the statue of freedom movement leader Mahatma Gandhi in the complex. He did not speak to reporters.
“I have returned to parliament after paying my respects to Bapu,” Gandhi later posted on Facebook, referring endearingly to Mahatma Gandhi as father.
Lawmakers from Congress and other opposition parties gathered outside the parliament’s entrance to cheer Gandhi and their new alliance called INDIA, or the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance.
The alliance is making plans to run against the BJP in national elections due by May 2024.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said the decision to reinstate Gandhi “brings relief to the people of India, and especially to Wayanad”, his constituency in the southern state of Kerala.
BJP has said the Supreme Court has only suspended Gandhi’s conviction and had not overturned it.
Gandhi’s disqualification from parliament galvanised India’s splintered opposition to form the INDIA alliance to jointly take on BJP.
Leaders of the alliance, which has less than half of BJP’s 301 members in the lower house of parliament, have held two meetings since June and are due to meet again on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 to name a convenor and a co-ordination panel.
Ghanshyam Tiwari, spokesperson for the Samajwadi Party, a key member of the INDIA alliance, said Gandhi had “emerged as a formidable architect and leader” of the alliance.
“A strong Congress party with the rising stature of Rahul Gandhi and determined leadership of Kharge will make the alliance the leading force in every state,” he told Reuters.
Analysts, however, cautioned that Gandhi taking centre stage again risked overshadowing the national ambitions of regional party leaders in the alliance and could destabilise it.
“It is very likely that any strident attempts by Congress to project Gandhi as their PM candidate would scupper the goal of broad opposition unity heralded by the INDIA alliance,” political analyst Asim Ali wrote in the Times of India newspaper on Monday.