Why Congress leader Rahul Gandhi faces immediate disqualification?


Congress leader Rahul Gandhi sentenced to two-year imprisonment in 2019 defamation case. PTI.

New Delhi: Leader of India’s Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, was held guilty and sentenced to two years in jail in a 2019 criminal defamation case for his remarks over the ‘Modi surname’. As per the Indian Supreme Court, two-year imprisonment technically attracts his disqualification from the Indian parliament.

As per the apex court’s rule, lawmakers including MPs, automatically lose their membership if convicted for a minimum of two years.

The Congress scion, however, retains his membership of the Indian parliament as the court in Gujarat’s Surat that convicted him has suspended his sentence for 30 days. This saves him from immediate disqualification and also gives him option to move a higher court to challenge the verdict.

Why Rahul Gandhi faces immediate disqualification?

As per the Indian Supreme Court’s landmark Lily Thomas vs Union of India judgement of 10 July, 2013, Rahul faces “immediate disqualification”.

In its judgement in the case, the apex court ruled that any member of parliament (MP), member of legislative assembly (MLA) and member of legislative council (MLC) convicted of a crime and sentenced to a minimum of 2 years in jail, loses membership of the parliament/state assembly with immediate effect.

However, in 2013, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government tried to overturn the top court’s judgement and retain Section 8(4) of Representation of the People Act, which allowed elected representatives three months to appeal their conviction.

The court, however, struck it down, terming it as “unconstitutional”.

It must be recalled that a political leader from the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh’s Samajwadi Party (SP), Abdullah Azam Khan, was immediately disqualified from the state assembly after a trial court convicted him to 2 years in prison in criminal case.

When conviction results to disqualification of Indian lawmakers?

The disqualification of a lawmaker convicted for an offence can happen in two instances. They are:

1 – The offence for which he/she is convicted is listed in Section 8(1) of the Representation of the People Act of 1951 which includes certain specific offences like promoting enmity between two groups, bribery and undue influence or personation at an election. The list does not include defamation.

2- If he/she is convicted for any other offence but is sentenced for a period of two years or more. Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act of 1951 mandates that a lawmaker can be disqualified if convicted and sentenced to not less than two years of imprisonment.

2019 Modi surname defamation case against Rahul Gandhi

On Thursday, the Surat court held Rahul guilty of criminal defamation for his remark about the Modi surname ahead of the 2019 national polls. He has been convicted under the Indian Penal Code’s (IPC) Section 500, which provides for imprisonment of up to two years, and later released on bail.

The court which held Rahul guilty also granted him bail and suspended the sentence for 30 days.

Who filed the defamation case against Rahul Gandhi?

The defamation case against Rahul Gandhi was filed by former chief minister of Gujarat Purnesh Modi for allegedly defaming the Modi community at a rally in 2019 at Kolar city in southern Indian state of Karnataka.

What did Rahul Gandhi say?

Addressing a political rally in Kolar in the run-up to 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Rahul allegedly said: “How come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?”

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