Disqualification threat: How the past has returned to haunt Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi faces the threat of immediate disqualification as Lok Sabha MP, besides being barred from contesting any election for six years.

Rahul Gandhi
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi leaves from Parliament House complex during Budget Session, in New Delhi, Thursday, March 16, 2023. (PTI Photo/Kamal Singh)

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on Thursday landed in legal trouble after a trial court in Surat, Gujarat, pronounced him guilty of defaming the Modi community through his remarks at a rally in Karnataka on April 13, 2019, and sentenced him to two years in prison.

However, Rahul was granted bail by the court which also suspended his sentence for 30 days to allow him to appeal against his conviction in a higher court.

Following the verdict, Rahul Gandhi faces the threat of immediate disqualification as a member of the Lok Sabha, besides being barred from contesting any election for six years after the conclusion of his two-year jail term.

The Representation of People Act, 1951, provides for the disqualification of convicted leaders. However, it did provide some relief to convicted netas before the Supreme Court in a landmark order brought an end to it in 2013.

The 2013 order by the top court in the Lily Thomas vs Union of India case ruled that a Member of Parliament, Member of Legislative Assembly or Member of Legislative Council will stand to be disqualified immediately if they are convicted of a crime or sentenced to imprisonment for a period of two years or more. It also struck down the constitutional validity of Section 8(4) of the RP Act which gave three months to convicted netas to appeal against their conviction.

Prior to this verdict, MPs, MLAs and MLCs were entitled to protection from disqualification till their appeals were pending legal challenge against their conviction.

On September 27 in 2013, the UPA government headed by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh passed an ordinance to negate the Supreme Court order. UPA ally Rashtriya Janata Dal, helmed by Lalu Yadav, stood at a crossroads as their leader faced the threat of disqualification in the fodder scam case. The government, indifferent to the criticism from the Opposition of protecting convicted lawmakers, went ahead and passed the ordinance anyway.

The same day, Rahul made a dramatic entry at the Press Club in Delhi where Ajay Maken was addressing the media, and did the unthinkable! In full view of the cameras, Rahul not only came down heavily on his own party-led government, but he also went on to tear the ordinance into pieces, an act that was seen as a major embarrassment for the then PM and his cabinet.

Terming the ordinance as “complete nonsense”, Rahul said it should be “torn and thrown out”.

“I am telling you what is happening internally – we need to do this [bring in an ordinance] because of political considerations. Everybody does this. The Congress party does this, the BJP does this, Janata Dal does this, the Samajwadi does this and everybody does this. And there is a time to stop this nonsense,” he said.

Following Rahul Gandhi’s outburst, the government withdrew the ordinance against the same Supreme Court judgment that has today paved way for his disqualification.

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First published on: 23-03-2023 at 18:15 IST