Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Defamation case: SC stays Rahul Gandhi’s conviction over Modi surname remark

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the conviction which was awarded by a trial court in Gujarat to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for his alleged remarks against the Modi surname.

It is now expected that the decision to disqualify the MP would be rolled back, and Rahul Gandhi’s membership in the Lok Sabha would be restored.

On 24 March, one day after the conviction, Lok Sabha Secretary General Utpal Kumar Singh notified that Rahul Gandhi would stand disqualified as MP from Wayanad constituency from 23 March, the date of his conviction, under Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
A bench led by Justice BR Gavai said that the trial court while granting him maximum sentence did not disclose its reasons. The bench was of the view that had the judge granted him a sentence of less than 2 years, the provisions of section 8(3) of the Representation of People’s Act which resulted in his disqualification as Wayanad MP would not have been attracted.
“The trial judge, in the order passed by him, has awarded a maximum sentence of two years. No other reason has been granted why the trial judge has imposed the maximum sentence of two years. It is to be noted that it is only on account of the maximum sentence of two years that the provisions of section 8(3) of the Representation of People’s Act have come into play. Had the sentence even been a day lesser, the provision would not have been attracted,” the bench said in its order.

The court also said that the utterances made by Gandhi were “not in good taste” and said that a person in public life is expected to exercise caution in public speeches. The court said that Gandhi ought to have been more careful.

The bench, while granting him relief, said that the ramifications of his disqualifications were “wide” as it did not only affect his right but also the right of the constituency.

“The ramifications of 8(3) are wide. It does not only affect the right of the petitioner to continue in public life, but the right of the electorate who have elected him to represent their constituency. We are of the considered view that taking into consideration the aforesaid, and particularly that no reasons have been given by the trial judge for imposing the maximum sentence – which results in incurring disqualification – the order of the conviction needs to be stayed. We stay the order of conviction,” the bench said in its order.

Earlier this week, while maintaining his stand that he would not apologise to PM Modi for his alleged remarks on ‘Modi’ surname, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi told SC that using the judicial process and its consequences under the Representation of People’s Act to arm twist him into doing the same is an abuse of process of law.

“The petitioner maintains, and has always maintained, that he is not guilty of the offence, and if he had to apologise and compound the offence, he would have done it much earlier. Using the criminal process and the consequences under the Representation of Peoples’ Act to arm twist the petitioner into apologising for no fault is gross abuse of the judicial process and ought not to be countenanced,” Rahul Gandhi said in the rejoinder affidavit submitted in response to the affidavit filed by complainant Purnesh Modi.

The Gujarat HC had in its order declined to stay Rahul’s conviction in the criminal defamation case by Surat sessions court. After his conviction in the case, Gandhi was disqualified as MP from Kerala’s Wayanad on March 24.

Earlier in March, a magisterial court convicted Rahul Gandhi for his ‘Modi’ surname remarks ahead of the 2019 national polls.

Gandhi had challenged the Gujarat High Court’s July 7 order, passed by a bench of Justice Hemant M Prachchhak.

Upholding the Surat session court’s July 7 verdict, the HC judge had said that the two-year jail term was “just, proper and legal.” Remarking that the need of the hour was to have “purity in politics”, the judge had said that a stay on conviction was not the rule but an exception to be reserved for rare cases only. He said that Rahul’s case did not fall into that category.

Meanwhile, a debate on the no-confidence motion moved by the Opposition against the government in the Lok Sabha over the Manipur violence will be held from August 8 to August 10. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to reply to the Opposition’s no-trust motion on August 10.

BJP leader and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi had filed a criminal defamation case against Gandhi in 2019 over his “How come all thieves have Modi as the common surname?” remark made during an election rally in Kolar in Karnataka on April 13, 2019.

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