The Supreme Court on Friday issued a stay on Rahul Gandhi’s conviction in a 2019 criminal defamation case related to his “Modi surname” remark, paving the way for the revival of his Lok Sabha membership and allowing him to contest the national elections due next year.
A Lok Sabha MP from Wayanad, Gandhi was sentenced to two years in prison by a Surat court on March 23, 2023, and subsequently disqualified from the parliament the following day.
Justice BR Gavai, while delivering the verdict, emphasized the far-reaching implications of Gandhi’s conviction, as it could adversely impact the rights of the electorates who elected him.
The defamation case was filed in 2019 by Purnesh Modi, a former minister in the Gujarat government, against Gandhi for his remarks made during an election rally at Kolar in Karnataka on April 13, 2019. During the speech, Gandhi had linked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to fugitives Lalit Modi and Nirav Modi, stating, “How come all thieves have Modi as the common surname?”
After his appeal was rejected by a local court and the Gujarat High Court, Rahul Gandhi approached the Supreme Court seeking a stay on his conviction.
In an affidavit filed before the apex court, Rahul Gandhi refused to apologize for his remark, but appealed the court to stay his conviction in the case which had led to his disqualification from the parliament.
“Using the criminal process and the consequences under the Representation of People Act to arm-twist the petitioner into apologizing for no fault is a gross abuse of the judicial process and ought not to be countenanced by this Court. The petitioner maintains and has always maintained that he is not guilty of the offense and that the conviction is unsustainable. If he had to apologize and compound the offense, he would have done it much earlier,” Gandhi’s affidavit read.
Representing Gandhi, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued that the case was “strange” since not a single person named in the speech sued Gandhi.
“Interestingly, everybody who is aggrieved in this very ‘small’ community of 13 crores, only people suing are BJP office-holders. Very strange,” Singhvi said.
“In that 13 crore, there is no uniformity, homogeneity, identifiability, no boundary line…That is the first point. Second is that [Purnesh Modi] himself said that his original surname was not Modi.” Singhvi said, as reported by Live Law.
In the order granting relief to Gandhi, Justice Gavai said, “One of the factors is .. if a constituency in parliament goes unrepresented, is it not a ground? There is no whisper by the trial judge for the need to impose the maximum sentence. You are not only affecting the right of one individual but an entire electorate of a constituency.”
Addressing the media at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters, Rahul Gandhi reiterated his belief in the triumph of truth. Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge also welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, viewing it as a victory of democracy and the Constitution.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury announced his intention to write to the Lok Sabha Speaker, Om Birla, seeking the revocation of Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from the House following the court order.
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