The Supreme Court has granted a stay on the conviction of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in the criminal defamation case against him, paving the way for his reinstatement as a Member of Parliament (MP).
However, the court acknowledged that his remarks, particularly regarding the 'Modi surname', were not appropriate for someone in public life.
According to the top court, the trial judge had imposed the maximum sentence of two years in this case. The court noted that if the sentence had been one day shorter, it would not have resulted in disqualification.
In April, Rahul Gandhi had contested his conviction in a magistrate's court in Surat. He argued that the conviction was erroneous and patently perverse, and that he had been sentenced in a way that could lead to his disqualification as an MP.
He also claimed that the trial court had been unduly influenced by his status as an MP.
The Supreme Court acknowledged that Rahul Gandhi's statements were indeed inappropriate. The court emphasised that he should have exercised more caution while delivering speeches.
According to a statement, the consequences of disqualification not only impact the individual's rights but also affect the electorate.
During the court proceedings, Rahul Gandhi's lawyer argued that this is his final opportunity for acquittal, which would enable him to participate in Parliament and run for elections. The lawyer also highlighted that the High Court had taken 66 days to reserve its judgement, and due to his conviction in the case, Gandhi had already missed two Parliament sessions.
Rahul Gandhi's plea for a stay on his conviction was heard by a bench comprising justices B R Gavai, P S Narasimha, and Sanjay Kumar at the Supreme Court.
The Gujarat High Court had previously declined to grant a stay on his conviction in the criminal defamation case.
Representing Rahul Gandhi, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi pointed out that the trial had been completed and Gandhi had even been convicted, yet no evidence had been presented thus far.
According to Singhvi, this was the first time that "30 crore people have been classified as an identifiable group". He stated that these individuals are diverse and not uniform, consisting of various communities, castes, and groups.
He emphasised that those with the appellation 'Modi' are completely distinct.
During the hearing, Justice Gavai stated that Gandhi would need to present an exceptional case in order to obtain a stay on his conviction. In response, Singhvi clarified that he was not arguing about the conviction at this time.
Singhvi put forth the argument that the original surname of the complainant, Purnesh Modi, is not Modi, as he had changed it.
He further contended that Purnesh Modi himself admitted that his original surname was not Modi, and that he belongs to the Modh Vanika Samaj. Singhvi claimed that none of the individuals mentioned by Gandhi in his speech have taken legal action against him.
"It is interesting to note that out of the 130 million people in this small community, the only individuals who are suing happen to be BJP office-holders. This is quite peculiar," commented Singhvi.
The Supreme Court highlighted that the trial court had also mentioned Gandhi's criminal history.
"They have mentioned 13 cases, but there have been no convictions in any of those cases. How can these be considered as criminal antecedents? Despite the charges, there have been no convictions. Just take a look at the chart. It is filled with cases filed by BJP workers, but no convictions," responded Singhvi.
Advocate Sanghvi further pointed out that the High Court regards this as a serious offense involving moral turpitude.
He questioned the inclusion of moral turpitude in this case, as there were no materials or judgements indicating such behaviour. The offense was non-cognisable, bailable, and compoundable, and did not involve crimes against society like kidnapping, rape, or murder.
According to the Singhvi, there had been no other instances where a two-year sentence had been given for a similar offense. This fact highlighted the unusual nature of the punishment in this particular case, he stressed.
Despite maintaining his innocence, Gandhi appealed to the top court on Wednesday to suspend his two-year conviction. This would allow him to continue participating in the ongoing sittings of the Lok Sabha and subsequent sessions.
During a rally in Kolar, Karnataka in April 2019, Rahul Gandhi had taken a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi by questioning why "all the thieves" seemed to have Modi as a common surname. This comment was made in a sarcastic manner to criticise the Prime Minister, and was found to be derogatory in nature.
In an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, the ex-MP of Wayanad stated that he has consistently maintained his innocence and believes that the conviction against him is not justified.
He further expressed that if he had to apologise and settle the matter, he would have done so long ago.
Rahul Gandhi has taken legal action against the trial court's decision and has appealed the case to the Surat Sessions court, where the appeal is currently awaiting a resolution.
An appeal from Swarajya
At Swarajya, we rely on our readers' support through subscriptions to sustain our media platform. Unlike larger conglomerates, we are unable to relentlessly chase advertising money — our model is largely built on your patronage.
Your support has never been more crucial. We work tirelessly to deliver 10-15 high-quality articles daily, ensuring you receive insightful content from 7 AM to 10 PM.
If you believe India's story has to be articulated in a way it has never been done before without shrugging it off, become a patron (or) subscribe now for ₹̶2̶4̶0̶0̶ ₹1999 and get 12 print issues, unlimited digital access for 1 year, a special India that is Bharat T-shirt (Offer ends soon).
We are counting on you!