The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the conviction of Congress Leader Rahul Gandhi in the criminal defamation case against him for his ‘Modi surname’ remark. The apex court’s decision grants relief to Rahul Gandhi and paves the way for his reinstatement as a Member of Parliament.
A three-member bench comprising Justices BR Gavai, PS Narasimha and PV Sanjay Kumar was hearing Rahul Gandhi’s plea for stay on his conviction. With this order, Gandhi’s membership to Lok Sabha from Wayanad would stand restored.
Justice BR Gavai said the ramifications of Gandhi’s conviction are wide since it will also affect the rights of the electorates who elected him. “No reason has been given by the trial judge for imposing maximum sentence, the order of conviction needs to be stayed pending final adjudication,” the bench said.
“Particularly when offence is non-cognisable, bailable, compoundable, the trial judge is expected to give reasons for imposing maximum sentence,” Justice Gavai added.
The court also noted that the Sessions Court and the Gujarat High Court too did not go into that aspect.
“Though the learned appellate court and High Court have spent voluminous pages in denying stay on conviction, these aspects have not been gone into,” the order noted.
The top court, after hearing strong arguments of both sides, granted relief to the senior Congress leader, noting, “Not only was Gandhi’s right to continue in public life affected but also that of the electorate who elected him.”
The legal battle has been ongoing since Rahul Gandhi was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison by a Surat court on March 23, following his comments against the ‘Modi’ surname. Subsequently, Gandhi sought a stay on his conviction, but the Gujarat High Court dismissed his plea on July 7, asserting the importance of maintaining “purity in politics.”
Despite the conviction, Rahul Gandhi has steadfastly refused to apologise for his remarks and instead appealed to the top court to stay his conviction in the case, firmly asserting his innocence. The case was initially filed against him by BJP leader and former Gujarat minister, Purnesh Modi, in 2019 after Gandhi made the controversial remark during an election rally in Kolar, Karnataka, on April 13, 2019.
Gandhi had, in his speech, linked Prime Minister Narendra Modi with fugitives like Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi.
He had said, “Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi. How come all the thieves have ‘Modi’ as a common surname?”
In his affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, Rahul Gandhi pointed out that Purnesh Modi had resorted to using defamatory language like “arrogant” against him merely because he declined to apologise. Gandhi decried the misuse of the criminal process and the consequences under the Representation of People Act, terming it a gross abuse of the judicial system that should not be tolerated.
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for Gandhi, said that ‘Modi’ was not a homogenous community and hence, the offence of defamation would not lie.
“There is no uniformity, homogeneity. Then he (complainant) himself says he adopted the Modi surname later on,” Singhvi said.
In the 168-page judgment, the court also said that persons in public life should exercise caution while making statements.
With the stay granted by the Supreme Court, Rahul Gandhi can now focus on resuming his political duties and put the legal ordeal behind him. The case has attracted significant attention, considering the prominence of both the accused and the issues involved. The Supreme Court’s intervention marks a crucial moment in the ongoing legal battle, and further developments will be closely monitored by the public and the political fraternity alike.