Rahul Gandhi Receives Supreme Court Relief in ‘Modi Surname’ Case

The Supreme Court has granted a stay on the conviction of Rahul Gandhi, a Congress leader, in the 2019 criminal defamation case, which had resulted in his disqualification as a Lok Sabha MP. Justices B.R. Gavai, P.S. Narasimha, and Sanjay Kumar, who formed the bench, acknowledged that while Gandhi’s remarks were not in good taste, public figures are expected to exercise caution in their public speeches. The court emphasized that the consequences of the ruling and subsequent disqualification were significant, impacting both Gandhi’s right to continue in public life and the rights of the electorate who had elected him to represent their constituency.

This stay effectively reverses Gandhi’s disqualification, as per a 2018 clarification by the Supreme Court that disqualification triggered by a conviction would no longer be valid if the conviction is stayed during the appeal process.

The court highlighted that the maximum punishment for defamation under the Indian Penal Code is two years of imprisonment or a fine, or both. However, it pointed out that the trial court had awarded Gandhi the maximum sentence without providing adequate reasoning, except for referring to his “chowkidaar chor hai” remarks related to the Rafale deal, for which he had already been admonished by the Supreme Court in contempt proceedings.

The court noted that Gandhi’s disqualification was solely based on the imposition of the maximum sentence and criticized the lack of reasoning by the lower courts while rejecting his application for a stay of conviction.

It is important to mention that the Supreme Court refrained from expressing any opinion on the merits of the case to avoid affecting the ongoing appeal against his conviction before a Gujarat sessions court.

The court clarified that the stay does not prevent the sessions court from proceeding with the appeal, allowing the legal process to continue.

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