Explained: Rahul Gandhi’s conviction, likely disqualification and the SC verdict that changed it all

A court in Gujarat held Congress leader Rahul Gandhi guilty in a 2019 defamation case.

Defamation verdict fallout: Rahul Gandhi disqualified as Lok Sabha MP
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday. Express photo by Anil Sharma.

The conviction of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi by a court in Gujarat in a 2019 criminal defamation case puts light on the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The Wayanad MP has been sentenced to two years in jail in the case filed on a complaint by BJP MLA Purnesh Modi for his alleged remark, “How come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?” at an election rally in Karnataka in 2019.

The Surat district court later granted bail to Gandhi and suspended the sentence for 30 days to allow him to appeal in a higher court. The Congress said that they will file an appeal in the higher court.

A sentence of two years also invites his disqualification as a Member of Parliament (MP) under Representation of the People Act, 1951.

What is the Representation of the People Act, 1951?

As per the Act, a person sentenced to imprisonment of two years or more shall be disqualified “from the date of such conviction” and remain disqualified for another six years after serving time. The Act further said that the disqualification does not kick in for three months, and if an appellate court grants a stay on his conviction or sentence or both within this period.

However, on July 10, 2013, a two-judge panel comprising Justices AK Patnaik and SJ Mukhopadhaya, had passed a landmark judgment which had struck down Section 8(4) of the Representations of Peoples Act, 1950, terming it as “unconstitutional”, in the Lily Thomas vs Union Of India and others case.

The Section 8(4) of the Act stated that if a sitting member of the house is convicted of an offence punishable by more than two years in prison and files an appeal within three months of the conviction, he will not be disqualified from holding membership in the house.

The top court ruled that the MPs and MLAs will be immediately disqualified if they are convicted in a criminal case by a trial court.

Speaking to Financial Express Online, SY Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner of India, said, “As per the ‘Lily Thomas’ judgment, disqualification kicks in immediately. Although the sentence has been suspended by the Surat court itself, till the conviction is suspended by a higher court, he stands disqualified.”

Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal disqualified after conviction

The disqualification had also applied to Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal, who had ceased to be a people’s representative with effect from Wednesday, January 11, 2023, after he was convicted on an attempt-to-murder case from 2009. He was sentenced to 10-year-imprisonment.

The notification issued by Lok Sabha Secretary General Utpal Kumar Singh stated that Faizal “stands disqualified from the membership of Lok Sabha from the date of his conviction i.e. 11 January, 2023 in terms of the provisions of Article 102(l)(e) of the Constitution of India read with Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.”

The Election Commission had declared a by-poll for the seat on January 18, however, the poll body withheld the bypoll to the Lakshadweep Lok Sabha seat, days after the Kerala high court suspended the conviction and sentence of the sitting MP Faizal in the case.

Several politicians have been disqualified so far following the Supreme Court’s landmark verdict in 2013. They include: Samajwadi Party MLA Azam Khan, former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, Congress Rasheed Masood, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, Janata Dal (United) leader Jagdish Sharma, BJP leaders Asha Rani, Suresh Halvankar, among others.

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First published on: 23-03-2023 at 17:39 IST
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