New Delhi, March 23
With a Surat Court’s awardinga two-year jail sentence to Rahul Gandhi in a 2019 criminal defamation case on Thursday, the Congress MP faces immediate disqualification from the Lok Sabha and will remain disqualified until he manages to get the conviction stayed by a higher court.
The Court this morning, while pronouncing Gandhi guilty of his remarks made in Karnataka’s Kolar—“How come all thieves have surname Modi”—granted him bail and suspended his sentence for 30 days to let him go in appeal.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi called the court order “bad in law and unsustainable” and said, “We will challenge it and are sure of securing a stay on the conviction.”
But until then Gandhi will not be able to attend LS as his disqualification, under the current law, kicks in instantly with his two year sentence.
This law stems from a July 2013 SC judgment which struck down a previous sub section in the Representation of People’s Act that gave convicted MPs and MLAs three months to challenge the conviction and deferred their disqualification in the interregnum.
The developments today led to a massive face off between the BJP and the Congress, with both sides blaming each other.
Moments after Rahul, quoting Mahatma Gandhi, tweeted, “My religion is based on truth and non violece. Truth is my God, and non violence the means to attain Him.” The BJP asked whether Gandhi’s religion means he will go around defaming people, defaming the country, its democracy and its martyrs.
The BJP fielded former minister and veteran Ravi Shankar Prasad who asked, “Rahul Gandhi says he believes in truth and non violence. Does that mean he can defame people, hurl casteist slurs at them. If Rahul has the right to abuse people, those hurt by his abuses have a right to move court.
The law of the land is if an individual has been defamed by scurrilous, scandalous and defamatory comments, he has the right to redress and the sentence today came after prolonged hearings over four years.”
Prasad cited past remarks of Gandhi saying he was a serial offender.
The statements of Gandhi which Prasad mentioned included those made in London about India’s democratic decline and the harmony of Chinese foreign policy; remarks about Supreme Court in the Rafale matter for which he had said sorry to the court; accusations of Pegasus software on his phone; his claims in 2022 that kerosene had been poured all over the country and only a flame was needed to start the fire, among others.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge earlier alleged that “judges were being changed (to secure favourable orders).”
“We were expecting this order (of the Surat court) by the number of times Rahul Gandhi was asked to come,” Kharge said, inviting sharp rebuttals from the BJP which termed the Congress chief’s statements as “contempt of court”.
Asked if the Lok Sabha Speaker could move to disqualify Gandhi, Prasad said, “That is for the Speaker to decide. Section 8 of the Representation of People’s Act provides for disqualification of convicted MPs and MLAs.”
Section 8 (3) of the RPA clearly says that a person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years shall be disqualified from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release.
Sources said Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla can issue a notification disqualifying Gandhi immediately and declare the Wayanad seat vacant but that would just be a formality.
“The disqualification has already set in. Rahul Gandhi cannot attend LS till he gets the conviction stayed,” a Congress leader said.
The BJP, meanwhile, plans to whip up a political campaign against Gandhi for his “irresponsible statements against the country, and the habit of making caustic, defamatory remarks against the PM and Indian state”.
Prasad said Gandhi’s London remarks that India is a union of states reflected his “Maoist thoughts”.
“He does not believe in the nation state. He is habituated of making statements to weaken the country, insult soldiers, insult democracy. If he wins, democracy is good, if he loses it is not. If he gets a favourable judgment the judiciary is good, else it is not. This is the Congress Party’s democracy.” The BJP also slammed Congress leaders for backing Gandhi despite his “defamatory comments against the entire Modi community.”
“If Congress thinks they are strengthening democracy by following durbar culture they are daydreaming,” said Prasad.
While the case in Surat, decided today, was filed against Gandhi by former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi, another case for the same slur is pending against Gandhi in a Patna court. That case has been filed by BJP MP and ex-Bihar deputy CM Sushil Modi, whose arguments have ended and a conclusion is expected soon.
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