The sentencing of Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the opposition Indian National Congress, to two years in prison, and his disqualification as a lawmaker in the Lok Sabha (the Lower House), has sent shock waves through India’s political system.

Beyond reverberating through both houses of Parliament, the episode has opened a new and sorry chapter in India’s political history — and cast serious doubt on the future of its democracy.

Gandhi was targeted over comments he made during a 2019 campaign speech in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. After discussing India’s economic travails, Gandhi named six “thieves” who had contributed to them: Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Vijay Mallya, Lalit Modi, Anil Ambani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “One small question,” Gandhi quipped, “how are the names of all these thieves ‘Modi, Modi, Modi’? Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi, and if you search a little more, many more Modis will emerge.”