A court in Gujarat’s Surat city has rejected Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s application for a stay on his conviction in a criminal defamation case over his “Modi surname” remark. The court rejected Gandhi’s application – filed on April 3 – for a relief pending his appeal against a lower court’s order sentencing him to two years in jail in the case.
The conviction in the criminal defamation case and two-year jail term led to Gandhi’s disqualification from the Lok Sabha. He represented Wayanad in Kerala as an MP.
The verdict prolongs the uncertainty over whether he will be able to participate in the national elections scheduled for next year. Gandhi was sentenced to two years in prison for making remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surname during an election rally in 2019. He will not be arrested until he has exhausted all legal remedies.
His lawyer, Kirit Panwala, has stated that they will contest the decision in the Gujarat High Court. Furthermore, Gandhi lost his parliamentary seat a day after his conviction on 23 March due to a Supreme Court order that disqualifies a lawmaker who is sentenced to two or more years in jail with immediate effect.
The Congress party has criticized Mr. Gandhi’s conviction and accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of political vendetta. However, the BJP has rebutted these allegations, stating that due judicial process was followed in the case. Earlier this month, Mr. Gandhi had filed petitions to suspend his sentence or secure bail, and to suspend his conviction in a court in Surat. The court granted him bail to appeal against his conviction, but it is the stay or suspension of his conviction that is critical to reinstating him as a Member of Parliament.
The case against Mr. Gandhi, brought by BJP lawmaker Purnesh Modi, centered around his remarks made in Karnataka state in 2019 during an election campaign, where he said, “Why do all these thieves have Modi as their surname? Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi.” Nirav Modi is a wanted Indian diamond merchant, while Lalit Modi is a former chief of the Indian Premier League who has been banned for life by the country’s cricket board. Modi’s complaint stated that the comments defamed the entire Modi community. However, Mr. Gandhi said that he made the comment to expose corruption and that it was not directed against any specific community.
A stay on conviction by the sessions court could have paved the way for Gandhi’s reinstatement as a Member of Parliament. Now that his application for stay has been rejected, he will continue to remain disqualified.
Gandhi can now appeal against the rejection in a higher court and the same cycle of hope and despair would continue. He can only be reinstated as a Lok Sabha MP only after the conviction is stayed or dismissed.
The Congress on Thursday said it will continue to avail all options still available under the law. “Isn’t it exceptional enough to get a 2 years sentence for criminal defamation? Just long enough to be disqualified from Parliament,” Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted.
The BJP hailed the court’s decision as “victory” of the judiciary and the people. BJP leader Sambit Patra said that the decision is a “slap on the face of the Gandhi family”.