NEW DELHI: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday got a huge relief from the Supreme Court after it stayed his conviction in a 2019 criminal defamation case over his Modi surname remark and paved the way for his reinstatement as a Lok Sabha MP.
The stay which will also enable Gandhi, 53, to contest the 2024 Lok Sabha elections was given on the grounds the trial court in Surat in Gujarat failed to explain why he deserved the maximum two-year punishment upon his conviction that led to his disqualification from the Lower House of Parliament. The top court also noted that the sentence would not have attracted disqualification had it been a day lesser.
Observing that the utterances of Gandhi were not in good taste and a person in public life is expected to exercise caution while making public speeches, the court at the same time said his conviction and subsequent disqualification not only affected his right to continue in public life but also that of the electorate which elected him to represent their constituency.
Gandhi represented Wayanad in Kerala.
”Truth always triumphs, if not today then tomorrow or the day after. I thank people for their support,” the former Congress chief told a packed press conference at AICC headquarters, as celebrations erupted at the offices of the Congress party across the country. Several leaders of the 26-party opposition alliance INDIA also hailed the court verdict.
The Congress asserted that a delay in Gandhi’s re-instatement as MP on account of any ”excuses” by the government would be ”malafide”, ”unfair” and completely contrary to the heart and soul of parliamentary democracy.
While Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury met Speaker Om Birla and urged him to restore Gandhi’s membership at the earliest, party president Mallikarjun Kharge said it is to be seen how long will it take to reinstate Gandhi, noting just 24 hours were taken to disqualify him after his conviction on March 23 –one of the highest profile disqualifications of a sitting lawmaker upon their convictions.
”We want that Rahul Gandhi should speak on the ‘no-confidence motion’ against the government in the Lok Sabha,” Chowdhury told reporters. The discussion on the motion will be taken up from August 8 to 10.
Congress spokesperson and Gandhi’s counsel Abhishek Singhvi said Gandhi’s voice for the cause of the people will soon be heard in Parliament.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra cited a quote by Gautam Buddha – ”Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” She thanked the apex court on Twitter for the decision and wrote ”Satyameva Jayate”.
Reacting to the verdict, BJP IT department head Amit Malviya said Parliament ”can do with some levity for now” but the Congress leader continues to be on thin ice as several other criminal defamation cases are pending against him. ”Rahul Gandhi may have survived this one but for how long?” The top court was hearing a plea by Gandhi challenging the Gujarat High Court verdict which dismissed his plea seeking a stay on his conviction in the criminal defamation case filed by Purnesh Modi, a BJP MLA from Surat.
Gandhi had persistently refused to apologise for his remark but urged the Supreme Court to stay his conviction, asserting he is not guilty.
Purnesh Modi had filed the case in 2019 against Gandhi 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 in the same year.
A three-judge bench of Justices B R Gavai, P S Narasimha and Sanjay Kumar said no reason was given by the trial court judge while convicting Gandhi except that he was admonished by the apex court in a contempt case.
The top court had closed the contempt proceedings against Gandhi for wrongly attributing to it his ”chowkidar chor hai” remark against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the Rafale case, with a warning to be more careful in future after the senior Congress leader tendered an unconditional apology.
The top court said in so far as conviction is concerned, it has considered that the sentence for an offence punishable under section 499 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code is maximum two years imprisonment or fine or both, and the trial judge has awarded the maximum sentence of two years.
”Except the admonition by Supreme Court in a contempt case, no other reason has been granted for this (conviction) by trial judge. It is to be noted only on account of this maximum sentence imposed by trial judge, provisions of sub-section (3) of Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act have come into play.
”Had sentence been a day lesser, provisions would not have been attracted, particularly when an offence is non-cognisable, bailable and compoundable. The least that is expected from the trial court judge was to give some reasons to impose maximum sentence. Though appellate court and high court have spent voluminous pages rejecting stay on conviction, these aspects are not considered in their orders,” the bench said.
Referring to its earlier order in a contempt case against Gandhi, the apex court said while filing his affidavit in the contempt petition, he ought to have been more careful and exercised a degree of restraint in making such remarks which are alleged to be defamatory.
”No doubt the utterances were not in good taste and a person in public life is expected to exercise caution while making public speeches. Taking into consideration these and that no reason has been given by the trial judge for imposing the maximum sentence, the order of conviction needs to be stayed pending final adjudication,” the court said.
It clarified that the pendency of the present appeal by Gandhi would not come in the way of the appellate court in proceeding further with his appeal, which would be decided on its own merits, in accordance with law.
Source: Press Trust of India