AHMEDABAD: In a setback for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in his hope to get back the Parliament membership, the Gujarat high court on Friday rejected his plea seeking a stay on his conviction in a criminal
Modi surname remark
. The HC called for the need for purity in politics and said that people’s representative should be of clear character.
While rejecting Gandhi’s plea, Justice H M Prachchhak observed that Gandhi tried to seek the stay “on absolutely non-existent ground”.
It is well settled law that stay of conviction is not a rule, but can be resorted to in exceptional cases.
The judge said that the issue of disqualification is not only limited to MPs and MLAs. Gandhi is facing nearly 10 criminal cases.
“It is now the need of the hour to have purity in politics. A representative of people should be a man of clear character…” the judge said while referring to Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s grandson filing a defamation complaint in a Lucknow court against the Congress leader for his comment on the founder of the Hindutva ideology.
By citing the pending complaints against Gandhi, the court said, “In this background, a refusal of stay on conviction, in any way, would not result in any injustice to the applicant.”
Setback for Rahul Gandhi in ‘Modi Surname’ Case: Gujarat High Court dismisses plea for a stay on his conviction
The HC upheld the Surat sessions court’s decision of refusal of stay and termed it “just and legal”. The HC asked the sessions court to expedite Gandhi’a appeal against the order of two-year jail term in the defamation case.
On March 23, Gandhi was sentenced to two years in jail under sections 499 and 500 of the IPC after a BJP leader and former Gujarat minister, Purnesh Modi, filed a criminal defamation case against the Congress leader.
Gandhi was sued for his comment that he allegedly made during the 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign. During a rally at Kollar in Karnataka in April 2011, Gandhi took a dig at the prime minister Narendra Modi, and after calling names of Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi, he reportedly said, “How come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?”
After losing his Parliament membership from Wayanad under the provisions of the Representation of People Act over the conviction, Gandhi appealed against the conviction and sentence. On April 20, the sessions court in Surat admitted his appeal, suspended his sentence but refused to stay the conviction. As there was no stay on conviction, Gandhi’s membership remained suspended.
Before the HC, Gandhi pressed for a stay on conviction stating that a maximum punishment of two years for a bailable, non-cognisable offence could result in a loss of his Lok Sabha seat, and this could be a “very serious additional irreversible consequence to the person and the constituency he represents”. His lawyer submitted that if conviction was not stayed, Gandhi cannot contest elections for eight years while the offence is “neither serious in nature nor of a moral turpitude”.
The state government opposed Gandhi’a plea and submitted that the offence is of a serious nature. Complainant Purnish Modi raised the question on maintainability of Gandhi’s application claiming that the plea was filed under wrong provisions of law. Modi’s counsel cited the Representation of People Act to highlight that the parliament itself has decided to disqualify its members, if convicted with jail term of two years or above it. Thus, the case is serious for the parliament. He had also told the court that the then UPA government tried to provide some relaxation to the parliamentarians from being disqualified immediately, but it was Gandhi only who tore the bill in the house.