Fresh setback for Rahul Gandhi: The Congress leader's plea to stay his conviction gets dismissed!

In a fresh setback for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the Surat Sessions Court in Gujarat has on Thursday - April 20 dismissed his plea to stay the conviction that was awarded to him after finding him guilty in the criminal defamation case, connected to his 'Modi - Thieves' remark. The conviction has also given him a two-year incarceration and it eventually led to disqualify him as a Lok Sabha MP. 

The developments around his plea to fight the conviction were closely watched by the nation even as the Congress party has been protesting against the conviction that put Rahul Gandhi's electoral aspirations at stake. The verdict of conviction was pronounced by the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate in Surat on March 23 and the court had also awarded two-year imprisonment for the Congress leader. 

Later, opening the window for Rahul Gandhi to make an appeal against the prison sentence, the court suspended the prison sentence for 30 days and the Congress leader was granted bail. However, the court didn't stay the conviction due to which the Lok Sabha Secretariat has, the very next day, announced that Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified as an MP with immediate effect as per the Representation of the People Act, 1951. 

As per the provision of the Act, any elected representative gets prison sentence for two years or more, they will be disqualified and if their conviction wasn't stayed, they will be barred from contesting in the elections for six years, excluding their term of incarceration. These serious provisions warranted the Congress party to strongly fight the conviction against Rahul Gandhi as it has come a year ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Rahul Gandhi was representing the Wayanad constituency in Kerala in the current Lok Sabha and as soon as he was disqualified as an MP, the ruling BJP government sent him a notice to vacate the government bungalow that was allotted to him as an MP. Later, Rahul Gandhi announced that he would abide by the notice and vacated the bungalow amidst taking steps to legally fight the conviction. 

Rahul Gandhi earlier this month moved his appeal against the conviction at the Surat Sessions Court. In his plea, the Congress leader sought to dismiss the conviction. After hearing Rahul Gandhi's petition, Surat Sessions Court Judge Robin Mogera had reserved his verdict on April 13. As the Judge said that he will pronounce the verdict on April 20, the Sessions Court has on Thursday delivered its verdict, only to put Rahul Gandhi in more setbacks. 

The Sessions Court had dismissed Rahul Gandhi's plea to stay his conviction and this verdict means that Rahul Gandhi cannot be reinstated as a Lok Sabha MP. Although the conviction wasn't suspended, Rahul Gandhi's imprisonment isn't imminent as the Sessions Court has also granted bail to the Congress leader and suspended the two-year jail sentence till the disposal of his appeal seeking a stay on his conviction. Responding to the Sessions Court verdict, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said, "We will continue to avail all options still available to us under the law." 

Recap of Rahul Gandhi's case and conviction

Speaking at an election rally in Karnataka ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi 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. 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 Chief Judicial magistrate court in Surat was hearing the case and the verdict was pronounced on March 23 in which Judge HH Varma said that Rahul Gandhi was found guilty to the charges. 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. His sentence was suspended to allow him to challenge the verdict. 

Following the verdict that has become a historical judgment amid a political slugfest between both the national rivals, the Lok Sabha Secretariat on March 24 announced that Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified as an MP after getting convicted in the case with two-year prison sentence. Though the sentence was suspended, the conviction was held valid, which led to the revocation of his Lok Sabha membership. His Lok Sabha seat, Wayanad from Kerala, was also declared vacant following his disqualification.