Can Rahul Gandhi lose his Lok Sabha membership after today’s conviction?

Gujarat's court sentenced the Congress leader to two years in jail, but will not be going immediately. Gandhi has been convicted under Section 500 (dealing with defamation) of the IPC

Livemint
Updated23 Mar 2023, 03:11 PM IST
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi convicted by Surat Court on Thursday on his 2019 remark against PM Modi
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi convicted by Surat Court on Thursday on his 2019 remark against PM Modi(Congress Twitter)

Is another trouble brewing for Rahul Gandhi after Surat Court's latest order? The Wayanad MP was on Thursday convicted by Surat Court for his 2019 remark about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gujarat's court sentenced the Congress leader to two years in jail, but will not be going immediately. Gandhi has been convicted under Section 500 (dealing with defamation) of the IPC, under which the individual (who defames another) can be punished with simple imprisonment for a term extending to two years or with fine, or with both.

The Surat court has suspended Gandhi's sentence for 30 days in order to give him an opportunity to challenge its decision on the request on his legal team.

Meanwhile, speculation is rife that Gandhi is expected lose his Lok Sabha membership following a 2013 Supreme Court judgment on convicted MPs. Interestingly it was him who had publicly torn apart his own government's ordinance making the judgment null and void.

However, Gandhi has the option to go to the higher court to scuttle any such move.

Gandhi’s disqualification will kick in after a month, unless he is able to get a stay on the conviction (and not just the sentence) from an appellate court – in this case a sessions court – within that period.

Gandhi cannot directly approach the high court or Supreme Court because his conviction is in a criminal case. However, a third party could move the higher judiciary seeking intervention on the grounds that the Surat court’s ruling hurt larger public interest.

Disqualification of convicted lawmaker, including MPs and MLAs happens in two instances--

First, if an offence is listed in Section 8(1) of the Representation of the People Act of 1951. This covers offences like bribery and undue influence, etc. Defamation is not included in this section.

Secondly, if a lawmaker is convicted of other offences and is sentenced to two years of jail. Section 8(3) mandates that MP can be disqualified if convicted and sentenced to not less than two years of imprisonment.

And, Section 8(4) also states that the disqualification takes effect only “after three months have elapsed” from the date of conviction.

This means that filing an appeal won't be enough but the convicted MP or MLA will have to secure a specific order of stay against the conviction of the trial court.

The appellate court can suspend the sentence of a convict when the appeal is pending according to Section 389 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

In the 2013 ruling in ‘Lily Thomas v Union of India’, the Supreme Court struck down Section 8(4). The apex court said that Members of Parliament and MLAs, on conviction for offences, would be disqualified immediately from their position without being given three months’ time for appeal.

In the same year, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government tried to overturn the judgment and retain section 8 (4). But it was Rahul Gandhi who opposed UPA's ordinance and called it, “complete nonsense that should be torn up and thrown away”.

Supreme Court lawyer Upamanyu Hazarika told Hindustan Times said these 30 days would be crucial for Gandhi. If he can get a higher court to stay or set aside the Surat district court’s order, he can continue to retain his Lok Sabha seat.

Muhammad Khan, another Supreme Court lawyer said that Congress’ legal team is not going to waste any time to get a stay on the Surat court’s order.

The appellate court in such cases is always session one, which means Gandhi himself cannot appeal to the high court.

What did Rahul Gandhi say about PM Modi?

On Thursday, Surat in Gujarat sentenced Rahul Gandhi to two years in jail in a 2019 criminal defamation case filed against him over his “Modi surname” remarks.

The court of Chief Judicial Magistrate HH Varma, which held Gandhi guilty under Indian Penal Code sections 499 and 500, also granted him bail and suspended the sentence for 30 days to allow him to appeal in a higher court.

BJP MLA and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi had filed a case against Gandhi for his 2019 remark against the "Modi" surname. In a pre-poll rally in Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi commented, " how come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?”

While Purnesh Modi has welcomed the court's judgment, Gandhi tweeted, "My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God, non-violence the means to get it. -- Mahatma Gandhi".

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First Published:23 Mar 2023, 03:11 PM IST
HomeNewsIndiaCan Rahul Gandhi lose his Lok Sabha membership after today’s conviction?

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