Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said he had never imagined that he would be disqualified from Parliament when he had joined politics in 2004, reported ANI.

The politician made the comments during an interactive session with students at Stanford University in California.

Gandhi was on March 24 disqualified as a member of Lok Sabha, a day after a court in Gujarat sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment in a defamation case related to his remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surname.

According to Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, a legislator sentenced to jail for two years or more stands to be disqualified from the date of conviction until six years after serving time.

On Thursday, the Congress leader said he had never thought this is what he would go through.

“I was the first person to be given a criminal sentence for defamation and the maximum sentence to be disqualified from Parliament,” he added. “But I think it has given me a huge opportunity, probably much bigger than the opportunity I would have in Parliament. That’s just the way politics works.”

Gandhi’s membership of the Lok Sabha can be reinstated if his conviction is stayed. On May 2, the Gujarat High Court refused to grant interim protection to the politician and said that it will pronounce its verdict in an application seeking a stay on the sentence after June 5.

The former legislator from Kerala’s Wayanad, who is on a six-day tour of the United States, on Thursday said that Opposition parties in India are struggling as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party continues to dominate the political space.

“We’re struggling to fight the democratic fight in our country,” Gandhi said. “Democracy isn’t just about an Opposition party. It’s about several institutions that support the Opposition. Those institutions are either captured or not playing the role they were supposed to play.”

He said that it was due to these reasons that the Congress had launched the Bharat Jodo Yatra or Unite India March.

Gandhi also spoke about the issue of data privacy at another event where he interacted with a group of Silicon Valley-based startup entrepreneurs, reported The Indian Express. He also joked about his phone being tapped by the BJP.

“Hello! Mr Modi,” Gandhi said while holding his iPhone. “I presume my iPhone is being tapped. You need to establish rules with regard to privacy of data information as a nation and also as an individual.”

In August 2021, it was reported that Pegasus, a military grade spyware that was only sold to “vetted governments”, was allegedly used to snoop on journalists, politicians and activists in India and around the world. Gandhi, political strategist Prashant Kishore and former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa were among the potential targets, The Wire had reported.

“If a nation state decides that they want to tap your phone, no one can stop you,” Gandhi said on Thursday. “This is my sense. If the nation is interested in tapping phone, then this is not a battle worth fighting. I think whatever I do and work, is available to the government.”