Day after conviction, Rahul barred from House for 8 yrs

By, New Delhi
Mar 24, 2023 11:54 PM IST

Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi was on Friday disqualified as a member of the Lok Sabha after 19 years as a lawmaker, a day after a Surat court pronounced him guilty of criminal defamation for a remark he made ahead of the 2019 general elections about the Modi surname

Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi was on Friday disqualified as a member of the Lok Sabha after 19 years as a lawmaker, a day after a Surat court pronounced him guilty of criminal defamation for a remark he made ahead of the 2019 general elections about the Modi surname.

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HT Image

The announcement came via a notification issued by the Lok Sabha secretariat and sparked a wave of condemnation from Opposition parties, including the Congress that said it will launch a mass movement, even as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said Gandhi had insulted backward groups with his comment.

“I am fighting for the voice of India. I am ready to pay any cost,” Gandhi tweeted hours after he was expelled from the Lower House.

BJP chief JP Nadda called Gandhi arrogant. “He repeatedly hurt the sentiments of the OBCs,” he added.

Under the law, the conviction and two-year jail term renders Gandhi unfit to enter either House of Parliament for a period of eight years. But this can be reversed if he can get the conviction overturned or reduced by a higher court, something his party vowed to do at the earliest.

“Consequent upon his conviction by the court of chief judicial magistrate, Surat... Rahul Gandhi, member of Lok Sabha representing the Wayanad parliamentary constituency of Kerala stands disqualified from the membership of Lok Sabha from the date of his conviction i.e. 23 March, 2023,” the notification, signed by Lok Sabha secretary general Utpal Kumar Singh, said.

The development comes a year before general elections in India and months ahead of a clutch of key assembly elections where the Congress and the BJP square off against each other. The disqualification also sparked a rare moment of Opposition unity, with nearly every opposition leader backing Gandhi, 52, and calling it a new low for constitutional democracy.

“It’s not just a fight of the Congress or Rahul Gandhi, it’s a fight of the entire opposition,” said Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Any elected representative who is sentenced for any offence for a period of two years or more faces immediate disqualification under the Representation of People Act, 1951 (RP Act). One provision of the Act that granted three months’ protection from disqualification was struck down in 2013 as “ultra vires” by the Supreme Court.

In 2019 at a rally in Karnataka, Gandhi asked the crowd, “How come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?” The reference was to fugitives Lalit Modi and Nirav Modi, and targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Later that year, Gujarat lawmaker Purnesh Modi filed a case against Gandhi in Surat, saying the opposition leader had insulted all members of the Modi community.

On Thursday, the district court agreed, convicting Gandhi under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which provides for imprisonment of up to two years, and later released on bail. The court suspended the sentence for 30 days on Gandhi’s plea.

But this wasn’t enough to save his parliamentary seat.

The Lok Sabha notification said Gandhi was disqualified from the day of the conviction under Constitution’s Article 102(1)(e) read with Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act. Earlier in the day, a Lok Sabha official said that the background work on a decision on the disqualification started on Thursday night and didn’t take much time to get legal approval because of existing precedents of disqualification from the Lok Sabha.

This is the seventh case against Gandhi. In the National Herald case, he was granted bail in December 2015.

In November 2016, a Maharashtra court granted him bail for his comments linking the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. Earlier that year, he got bail by a Guwahati court in another defamation case.

In another defamation case arising from the same 2019 comment on Modi, Gandhi was given bail by a Patna court on July 6, 2019. The same year, Gandhi made bail in an Ahmedabad court in another a defamation case.

On July 4, 2019, the Congress leader was granted bail by a Mumbai court in a defamation case for his comments on the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh.

The Congress said Gandhi, who began his parliamentary career in 2004 from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, was targeted for the success of his Bharat Jodo Yatra and speaking out on allegations of fraud levelled at the Adani Group, which prompted 16 opposition parties to unite behind the demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the allegations.

“Gandhi was putting forward the truth before the country so they were not liking it,” Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge said.

BJP chief JP Nadda accused Gandhi of being arrogant and said he will face the people’s punishment in the 2024 polls. “He repeatedly hurt the sentiments of the OBCs. The Surat court has convicted him for his objectionable comments against the community. But Rahul Gandhi and the Congress stuck to those remarks due to their arrogance,” he added.

“9 days after RahulGandhi’s Adani speech in LS on February 7, the defamation case against him gets fast tracked by the complainant withdrawing his own stay in the HC on February 16. On February 27, arguments resume after one year. March 17, judgment reserved. This is no coincidence,” Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted.

The Congress said it had started the process of approaching a sessions court in Gujarat to get a stay on the conviction in the next 30 days (failing which Gandhi will have to go to jail). In the meeting of the Congress leaders, one MP said that all MPs of the party should tender mass resignations, said people aware of developments. A committee will be formed to decide on the next course of action.

Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi, who will now handle Gandhi’s appeal in the sessions court, said, “Our top priority is to get a stay in the conviction. If the Election Commission tries to notify Lok Sabha by-election in Wayanad, we will move another petition.”

Singhvi argued there were three major loopholes in the way Gandhi was disqualified. “Disqualification has to be done by President after taking a legal opinion. While the Election Commission said the Lok Sabha Speaker can do it in a criminal case, EC order is not above the highest law of the land, the Constitution.”

Gandhi is the third MP to be disqualified from the Lower House in the 17th Lok Sabha after Samajwadi Party lawmaker Azam Khan (March last year) and Nationalist Congress Party’s Mohammad Faizal, who was disqualified this January after being convicted in a criminal case. The Election Commission of India (ECI) in January withheld the bypoll to the Lakshadweep Lok Sabha seat, days after the Kerala high court suspended the conviction and the sentence of Faizal in a 2009 attempt to murder case.

Gandhi is also not the first person in his family to be disqualified. His grandmother and former prime minister Indira Gandhi was also removed from her seat in 1975. Others include former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad.

As a former MP, Gandhi will draw pension and be entitled to train tickets, but will have to vacate his official bungalow at Tughlaq Lane in due time, unless the Congress can get a stay on the conviction.

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