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Rahul Gandhi disqualification case: Supreme Court to hear plea again on August 4

Justice Gavai remarked that the court needs to listen to the other side represented by Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani as well. He said, "There are over 100 pages in order. It is so detailed. what is there to file replies? This is peculiar we are seeing to Gujarat courts."

On 21st July 2023, the Supreme Court postponed the hearing on Rahul Gandhi’s plea to stay the conviction in the criminal defamation suit in the ‘Modi Surname’ case to 4th August 2023. Justice BR Gavai and Justice PK Mishra’s bench pronounced this order. The court said that it needs to hear the other side of the case as well. The court has given a time of 2 weeks to Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani to file a written reply on behalf of Purnesh Modi to Rahul Gandhi’s petition.

Notably, the conviction in the case resulted in his disqualification as a Member of Parliament. Rahul Gandhi was an elected member of Lok Sabha from the Wayanad constituency of Kerala. He won that seat in the 2019 general elections.

At the beginning of the hearing, Justice BR Gawai said, “My father was associated. He was not a congress member, but he was closely associated. Mr Singhvi you are with Congress for more than 40 years and my brother is still in politics and he is in Congress. Please take a call if you want me to hear this.” Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing for Rahul Gandhi said that he does not have any problem.

Justice Gavai then said that the court will issue a notice returnable in two to three weeks. Responding to this, Singhvi said, “The petitioner has suffered for 111 days. He has lost one parliament session and is losing another. Elections to the parliament constituency of Wayanad would be shortly. Mr Jethmalani would not be concerned by disqualification. An interim suspension of disqualification can be given.”

Justice Gavai remarked that the court needs to listen to the other side represented by Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani as well. He said, “There are over 100 pages in order. It is so detailed. what is there to file replies? This is peculiar we are seeing to Gujarat courts.”

Advocate Jethmalani assured that he will file a reply within 10 days. The court said, “Issue notice. Liberty to serve the State of Gujarat through standing counsel. Notice waived on behalf of [private complainant Purnesh Modi]. Sr Adv Mahesh Jethmalani seeks 10 days to file written submissions.” The court said that it will hear this case on 4th August 2023.

On the issue of his being known to both the advocates and their families, Justice Gavai further said, “It’s my duty. Everyone should know. Coincidentally, my father has been with your father and his father in Parliament. Were great friends. Everyone should know. Tomorrow there shouldn’t be a problem. My father was good friends with your father, as well as his father. In a matter, I had the pleasure of appearing with Ram Jethmalani as his junior.”

What did Rahul Gandhi contend in his petition before the Supreme Court?

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Rahul Gandhi, had filed a petition in the Supreme Court on 18th July 2023 and sought an urgent hearing, following which a bench headed by CJI DY Chandrachud agreed to hear the petition.

Rahul Gandhi’s petition, filed in the Supreme Court, came in response to the dismissal of his request for a stay on his conviction in a criminal defamation case related to the Modi surname. Expressing concern over the potential consequences, Rahul Gandhi asserted that if relief is not granted, his political career will be irreparably damaged.

In his plea, Rahul Gandhi contended that allowing the High Court’s decision to stand will gradually erode democratic institutions, leading to the stifling of democracy and negatively impacting the future of India’s political landscape. The Congress leader vehemently refuted the complainant’s claim that his speech defamed individuals bearing the Modi surname.

Highlighting his role as a representative of the Wayanad constituency in the Lok Sabha, Rahul Gandhi emphasised that penalising him for what he termed minor defamation charges deprives the constituents of their voice in Parliament and their ability to participate in democratic governance. He also said that failing to stay the conviction and sentence would cause significant harm to the people of Wayanad, leaving them without representation for an extended period.

Rahul Gandhi did not get relief in the Gujarat High Court

After his conviction in the case, Gandhi was declared disqualified as MP from Kerala’s Wayanad on 24th March 2023 following notification of the Lok Sabha Secretariat. Gandhi was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment which disqualified him as an MP under the rigours of the Representation of People Act.

The High Court on July 7 affirmed the decision of a Gujarat Sessions court, which had refused to put on hold a magisterial court order on 23rd March 2023 convicting Gandhi and handing out the maximum punishment provided for criminal defamation under the Indian Penal Code.

Rejecting Gandhi’s plea, the High Court has said that has been seeking a stay on his conviction on “absolutely non-existent grounds” and a stay on conviction is not a rule but an exception. In March, the magisterial court convicted Gandhi for his remarks ahead of the 2019 national polls about the ‘Modi’ surname. After the magisterial court convicted Gandhi, he approached the Sessions court, which rejected his plea for a stay on his conviction on 20th April 2023. Thereafter, he approached the High Court.

Congress scion was disqualified according to the Representation of the People Act

On 23rd March 2023, the Metropolitan Magistrate Court of Surat convicted Rahul Gandhi and sentenced him to two years in jail for his remarks made during an election rally in Karnataka back in 2019. It was during this rally that Gandhi questioned why individuals with the surname Modi are thieves. Following his conviction, Rahul Gandhi was disqualified from membership in Parliament. He had been elected to the Lok Sabha from the Wayanad constituency in Kerala during the 2019 general elections. As per Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, a person convicted of an offence and sentenced to two years in jail is rendered ineligible for the term of their punishment and an additional six years, barring him from contesting elections.

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