Surat court rejects Rahul Gandhi’s plea seeking stay on conviction in defamation case

A stay order could potentially pave way for Gandhi’s return as a Lok Sabha MP, 28 days after he was disqualified by the Speaker over his conviction in the case.

Rahul Gandhi, Rahul in Surat
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi waves at supporters as he leaves from Surat District Court after filing an appeal challenging his conviction and sentencing in the 2019 criminal defamation case over the 'Modi surname' remark, in Surat, Monday, April 3, 2023. (PTI Photo)

Rahul Gandhi defamation: A Surat court dismissed Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s plea seeking a stay on his conviction in the criminal defamation case over his ‘all thieves have Modi surname’ remark in 2019 at an election rally in Karnataka, reports news agency ANI.

The court of additional sessions judge R P Mogera rejected Gandhi’s application filed for a relief pending his appeal against a lower court’s order sentencing him to two years in jail in the case.

The 52-year-old former Congress president is set to move Gujarat High Court tomorrow.

A stay on conviction by the sessions court could have paved the way for Gandhi’s return as a Lok Sabha MP, 28 days after he was disqualified by the Speaker over his conviction in the case.

The Surat Sessions Court on April 3 granted bail to Gandhi, who had filed an appeal following his conviction in the case filed by BJP leader Purnesh Modi.

While granting bail to the former MP, the court also issued notices to complainant Purnesh Modi and the state government on the Congress leader’s plea for a stay on his conviction. It heard both parties and then reserved the order for April 20.

On March 23, a metropolitan magistrate’s court in Surat had sentenced Gandhi to two years of imprisonment under sections 499 and 500 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Following the verdict, a day later the Lok Sabha Secretariat issued him a notification saying he was disqualified as an MP from the Wayanad seat of Kerala, as per a Supreme Court ruling from 2013, which stated that any MP or MLA is automatically disqualified if convicted and sentenced to two years or more.

What Gandhi appealed before the Surat court

In his appeal before the Surat district and sessions court on April 3, Gandhi’s lawyers submitted that “he was treated harshly at the stage of determination of sentence taking into account his position as Member of Parliament”, adding that the maximum sentence has caused him “irreparable loss”.

His lawyers also filed two applications, one for a stay on the sentence (or bail till the disposal of his appeal) and another for a stay on conviction till the disposal of the appeal.

Terming the conviction “erroneous” and “patently perverse”, the appeal states that the “material on which it based has not been proved in accordance with law”.

In his appeal, Gandhi argued that the disqualification of an elected representative “essentially interferes with the choice of the electorate in a free and fair election”, adding that a by-election would cause an “enormous burden on the state exchequer”.

What did Purnesh Modi state in his affidavit?

Oppposing Gandhi’s plea, MLA Purnesh Modi told the court that Gandhi is a repeat offender with several criminal defamation proceedings against him going on in different courts across the country.

He further argued in his affidavit that the way Gandhi came to file his appeal showed “extraordinary arrogance” and “a very dirty display of childish arrogance and an immature act of bringing pressure upon the court”. This was in an apparent reference to the presence of veteran Congress leaders, including Chief Ministers of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh Ashok Gehlot and Buphesh Baghel, in Surat, who also accompanied Gandhi.

He also accused Gandhi of making “unfair and contemptuous comments” against the court through his aides, associates, and leaders of his party and others at his behest following his sentencing. “The accused is in the habit of making such defamatory and irresponsible statements which may either defame others or may hurt the feelings of others, in the name of freedom of speech and political criticism and dissent,” Modi argued.

Get live Share Market updates and latest India News and business news on Financial Express. Download Financial Express App for latest business news.

First published on: 20-04-2023 at 10:40 IST