SC stays Rahul’s conviction in ‘Modi surname’ defamation case

With the apex court's order, Rahul Gandhi's status as a Member of the Parliament (MP) will be restored.

New Delhi: In a big win for Rahul Gandhi, the Supreme Court on Friday stayed conviction of the former Congress President in the ‘Modi surname’ defamation case, which cost him his Lok Sabha membership, saying that no reasons were given by the trial judge for imposing the maximum punishment of two years in the case. 

“If a constituency in Parliament goes unrepresented, is it not a relevant ground (to suspend conviction)? No whisper by the trial judge about the need to impose the maximum sentence. Not only the right of one individual is being affected, but the entire electorate of the constituency,” observed a bench comprising of Justices B.R. Gavai, P.S. Narasimha, and Prashant Kumar Mishra during the hearing. 

Further, the bench remarked that had Gandhi been awarded a sentence of 1 year, 11 months and 29 days, he would have been not disqualified as a Member of Parliament. 

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Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Gandhi, termed the conviction as “strange” while referring to many other judgements of the Supreme Court to justify that Gandhi’s conviction in the case deserves to be suspended. “Everybody aggrieved is a BJP office-bearer or a karyakarta (party worker),” he said.

On the other hand, senior advocate Jethamalani, appearing for the complainant BJP MLA in the defamation case, said that Gandhi’s intention was to defame every person with the surname ‘Modi’ just because it is the same as that of a Prime Minister. 

“You (Rahul Gandhi) have defamed an entire class out of malice,” he said. He also referred to the admonition awarded to Gandhi by the Supreme Court in 2019 in contempt proceedings over his remarks on the Rafale case.

The Supreme Court was hearing the plea filed by former Congress president against the Gujarat High Court’s verdict refusing a stay on his conviction in the ‘Modi surname’ defamation case.

On July 15, the Congress leader had approached the Supreme Court challenging the Gujarat high court’s order where a bench of Justice Hemant Prachchhak had observed that granting a stay on his conviction would be an exception, and not a rule.

Gandhi was disqualified as an MP in March, after a Surat court convicted him and sentenced him to two years in prison for his “How come all thieves have Modi as the common surname” remark made during an election rally in Karnataka in April 2019. Gandhi’s remark was interpreted as an attempt to draw an implicit connection between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and fugitive businessmen Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi.

In March, the sessions court in Surat had dismissed Gandhi’s plea seeking suspension of his conviction by the magistrate court, stating that his disqualification will not result in an irreversible loss to him. The Congress leader was disqualified under a rule that bars convicted MPs from holding the Lok Sabha membership. 

According to legal experts, after the stay has been granted by the top court on Rahul Gandhi’s conviction, it will be sufficient to restore his Lok Sabha membership.

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