On March 23, 2023, a court in Gujarat’s Surat district convicted Rahul Gandhi, a Congress leader and MP, for his remarks “why all thieves share the Modi surname” made during a political campaign in Karol in April 2019. In this article, we will discuss the details of the defamation case against Rahul Gandhi, the conviction, and its aftermath, including Gandhi’s disqualification as a Lok Sabha member from Wayanad.
The defamation case against Rahul Gandhi: Modi Surname Case
The case was filed by BJP MLA and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code. Modi had alleged that Rahul Gandhi’s remarks defamed all people with the ‘Modi’ surname while addressing a rally at Kolar in Karnataka ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The remarks were video graphed by the video surveillance team and video viewing team, duly notified by the office of Deputy Commissioner and District Election Officer, Kollar District.
Conviction and sentencing
On March 23, 2023, the court in Surat convicted Rahul Gandhi in the defamation case and sentenced him to two years in prison. Gandhi remained present in the court when the verdict was pronounced. He had earlier maintained that there was no malafide intention on his part when he made the statement in question.
Disqualification as a Lok Sabha member
Following his conviction, the Lok Sabha Secretariat issued a notification on March 24, 2023, disqualifying Rahul Gandhi as a Lok Sabha member from Wayanad. Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act states that a person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years shall be disqualified. As Gandhi has been sentenced to two years in the Surat case, Section 8(3) is surely attracted.
Suspension of Sentence vs. Suspension of Disqualification
The question arises whether it was correct to disqualify Rahul Gandhi as a Lok Sabha member when the court had suspended the sentence imposed on him, to enable him to appeal against it within 30 days. In B.R.Kapur vs State of Tamil Nadu (2001), the Supreme Court had held that the suspension of the execution of the sentence does not alter or affect the fact that the offender has been convicted of a grave offence and has attracted the sentence of imprisonment of not less than two years.
The court further held that the suspension of the execution of the sentences does not remove the disqualification against the offender. The court had made it clear that the High Court had erroneously termed the suspension of the execution of the sentences as the suspension of the sentence itself.
Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act states that a person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years shall be disqualified. As Rahul Gandhi has been sentenced to two years in the Surat case, Section 8(3) is surely attracted.
The Supreme Court has held in both Lily Thomas (2013) and Lok Prahari (2018) that the disqualification which ensues from a conviction will not operate despite the appellate court having granted a stay of the conviction. In Lok Prahari, the Supreme Court held that the disqualification under Sections (1)(2) or (3) of Section 8 of the R.P. Act would not operate from the date of order of stay of conviction passed by the appellate court under Section 389 of the Code or the High Court under Section 482 of the Code.
In Purnesh Modi, the suspension of Rahul Gandhi’s sentence was ordered by the trial court itself. Although the Supreme Court’s rulings in B.R. Kapur, Lily Thomas, and Lok Prahari were in the context of Section 389 of the Code dealing with the jurisdiction of the appellate courts, it is reasonable to suggest that the same principles would apply to Purnesh Modi, as the conviction of Rahul Gandhi remained, thus attracting his disqualification from the Lok Sabha. Once the appellate court suspends Rahul Gandhi’s conviction in Purnesh Modi, his disqualification from Lok Sabha will cease to operate.
The Supreme Court, in the case of Azam Khan’s disqualification by the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly, was critical of the speed with which he was disqualified. The court emphasized the importance of allowing lawmakers to explain themselves before being disqualified and of following due process. The court also expressed concern that disqualifications could be used as a tool for political vendetta.
Rahul Gandhi has been convicted of criminal defamation and sentenced to two years in prison, which has resulted in his disqualification as a Lok Sabha Member from Wayanad. Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act clearly states that a person convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years shall be disqualified. While there may be questions about the speed with which Rahul Gandhi was disqualified, the legal provisions regarding disqualification are clear. Once the appellate court suspends his conviction, his disqualification from Lok Sabha will cease to operate.
List of references:
- Divyanshu Dutta Roy, Rahul Gandhi Gets 2 Years Jail In ‘Modi Surname’ Case, 30 Days To Appeal, NDTV, 23 March 2023, available at: https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/rahul-gandhi-guilty-in-2019-modi-surname-defamation-case-3885663
- HT News Desk, a 2-year jail term for Rahul Gandhi on ‘Modi surname’ remark: What was the case?, Hindustan Times, 23 March 2023, available at: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/2year-jail-term-for-rahul-gandhi-on-modi-surname-remark-what-was-the-case-101679552254107.html