Breaking: Rahul Gandhi is disqualified as Congress MP after his conviction in a defamation case!

In a major blow to the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified as a Lok Sabha MP after he was convicted in a criminal defamation case with a two-year prison sentence. The announcement of his disqualification has been made on Friday - March 24 by the Lok Sabha Secretariat, a day after a Surat court in Gujarat found Rahul Gandhi guilty in the defamation case connected to his 'Modi surname' remark. 

In an official notification, the Lok Sabha Secretariat said, "Consquent upon his conviction by the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Surat in C.C./18712/2019, Shri 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 in terms of the provisions of Article 102(1)(e) of the Constitution of India read with Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951." 

The copy of the notification has been sent to the President's Secretariat, Prime Minister's Secretariat, Rajya Sabha Secretariat, Election Commission of India, All Ministeries/Departments of Government of India. With this, Rahul Gandhi would be disqualified as an MP and his privileges would be suspended. As per the legal experts, Rahul Gandhi would quash this disqualification and would get reinstated as an MP after the conviction and prison sentence from the court got revoked. 

According to reports, following disqualification, Rahul Gandhi has been discussing with his legal team about the way forward while the opposition parties are standing in solidarity with Rahul Gandhi and to lead a collective fight against the Modi regime ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. As the scenes are unprecedented, they have sparked political furores with the Congress leaders attacking the BJP. 

The case in which Rahul Gandhi was convicted is four-year old and it was filed against him after he made a remark about Modi surname. In 2019, during the campaign trail of the Lok Sabha polls, Rahul Gandhi was addressing a rally at Kolar in Karnataka during which he said, "Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, and Narendra come they all have common surnames? How come all the thieves have 'Modi' as surnames?" As his remark gained traction, BJP MLA in Gujarat, Purnesh Modi lodged a complaint against Rahul Gandhi. 

In his complaint, Purnesh Modi claimed that Rahul Gandhi's remark has defamed the entire 'Modi' community. Based on his plaint, a criminal defamation case was filed against the Congress leader in Gujarat under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code. The case reached the court in Surat and Rahul Gandhi's lawyer has held arguments that the court proceedings were flawed from the beginning and the lawyer had also made arguments that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and not MLA Purnesh Modi, should have been the complainant in the case because the Prime Minister was the main target of Rahul Gandhi's speech. 

Rahul Gandhi had kept his presence in the court and his final apperance in the court was in October 2021. Earlier this February, the Gujarat High Court had vacated the stay on trial in the criminal defamation case after which the final hearings were resumed. During his presence, Rahul Gandhi had maintained that there was no malafide intention on his part when he made the statement in 2019. 

The Surat court announced the verdict on the case on Thursday - March 23. Earlier in the day, Rahul Gandhi arrived in Surat and he was received by top leaders of the Congress's Gujarat unit. As he arrived in the state, the Congress supporters flanked Rahul Gandhi and they held placards declaring that the 'Congress will not bow before the dictatorship of the BJP'. The court bench led by Chief Judicial Magistrate HH Varma pronounced the verdict and said that Rahul Gandhi was found guilty to the charges under Section 499- Defamation and 500 - punishment for Defamation under IPC. 

As the maximum possible punishment under this section is two years, Rahul Gandhi was awarded two-year prison sentence and a fine of Rs 15,000. However, Rahul Gandhi has moved a bail plea and he was swiftly granted bail by the court. As the Congress leader has been conferred with a bail, his prison sentence has been suspended and the court has granted to enable Rahul Gandhi to move an appeal against the prison sentence within thirty days. However, the legal experts hinted that Gandhi would most likely be disqualified as though the sentence was suspended, conviction holds validity and that he has to quash the conviction to avoid disqualification. 

He has now been disqualified and is now working with his legal team to repeal the conviction. As per the law, the Representation of the People Act, 1951, mandates the disqualification of any politician who is convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years. The law also mandates that a convicted legislator or parliamentarian cannot contest elections for six years after the end of incarceration. The risk factor here is - Rahul Gandhi can't be able to contest in the 2024 general elections if his conviction is not suspended or overturned by a higher court. Though the bail can grant him to avoid jail term, the overturning of the entire conviction is the only legal remedy for Rahul Gandhi to take back what he has lost.