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'Most interesting, judge awarded Rahul maximum punishment'

Last updated on: March 23, 2023 14:49 IST

'The judge could have given him a six-month, one-year, or one-and-half-year sentence because the maximum punishment for defamation cases is two years.'
'Disqualification happens only if one is sentenced for two years; it does not happen if the disqualification is for one-and-half years.'
'But the period of sentence is the judge's discretion.'

IMAGES: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi at the protest of Opposition MPs demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe in the Adani issue, March 17, 2023. Photograph: Sanjay Sharma/ANI Photo

Constitutional expert and former secretary general of the Lok Sabha P D T Achary discusses with Prasanna D Zore/ the fallout of the Gujarat court judgment that sentenced Rahul Gandhi for two years in prison for a defamation case filed against him by BJP MLA Purnesh Modi.

Will he be disqualified as an MP at once?

As per the Supreme Court judgment in the K T Thomas case the disqualification is instant.

The disqualification, as soon as the conviction is announced, starts from the date of conviction under Section 8 (3) of the Representation of the People Act (external link).

The only option now is for him to go in appeal against this order and get a stay on both conviction and sentence. He can go to the (Gujarat) high court now.

Till the time he approaches the Gujarat high court and an order comes from the appellate court, will his disqualification remain suspended?

His disqualification will be suspended only when the appellate court (the Gujarat high court) stays the conviction and sentence.

So, Rahul Gandhi will cease to remain an MP of the Lok Sabha till the time the appellate court stays his conviction and suspension?


What will this suspension and disqualification actually mean for the Lok Sabha MP from Wayanad?

His disqualification means he will cease to be a member of the House; he will cease to be a member of the Lok Sabha.

Not only that, disqualification resulting from a criminal case means if he is sentenced for two years, he will be disqualified for two years, but from his release he will stand disqualified from contesting any elections in India for another six years.

Which means for another eight years he will be out of politics; he will not be able to contest any election.

Will there be any restrictions on him addressing political meetings?

There will be no such restriction on him after his release from the jail (in case he is arrested and put in jail), but he will not be able to contest elections or vote, which will be the case only if the appellate court also rules against him.

In case if he loses his plea in the appellate court, will he have the option to move the Supreme Court for cancellation of his sentence and the subsequent disqualification? How long will it take for the appellate court to hear the matter?

They (Rahul Gandhi and Congress) will actually file a plea for a quick hearing (in the Gujarat high court) since he is a sitting member (of Parliament) and the appellate court will have to also decide on his disqualification.

Being an important political leader, naturally, he will plead before the court for a quick hearing and the case be heard immediately.

If the Gujarat high court also rules against Rahul Gandhi then he can approach the apex court?

Finally, it (the matter of Rahul Gandhi's conviction, sentence and disqualification) could head to the Supreme Court.

If the Gujarat high court rules in favour of Rahul Gandhi, can the complainant Purnesh Modi appeal against it in the Supreme Court?

Of course, he can contest it. Naturally, the losing party will contest the matter in the Supreme Court.

Ultimately, it will end up there.

The most interesting thing in this case is that the maximum punishment in a defamation case is two years. And this court has handed down the maximum sentence (to Rahul Gandhi).

The disqualification period is also of two years (that is till 2025, a year after the next Lok Sabha election is scheduled in 2024). That is also very interesting.

The judge could have given him a six-month, one-year, or one-and-half-year sentence also because the maximum punishment for defamation cases is two years.

The IPC says the maximum punishment (in defamation cases) is up to two years.

The disqualification happens only if one is sentenced for two years; it does not happen if the disqualification is for one-and-half years. But the period of sentence is the judge’s discretion.

Let me read out the court's order for you. The judgment by the Gujarat court says 'Rahul Gandhi has been convicted under section 499 and 500 of the IPC. The sentence awarded is for two years and against that sentence, he has pleaded that he may be released on bail till the appeal period and as per law, the court has granted him bail for 30 days and until appeal, the sentence is suspended by the court.'
So, does Rahul Gandhi have one month's time before he is actually disqualified?

In case the conviction and sentence is suspended, the disqualification will also stand suspended. It will not come into effect till the matter is disbursed off by the appellate court.

For this to happen, the appellate court has to suspend his conviction and sentence.

Now that you have read out this part of the order I would believe that he won't be disqualified for one month at least.

What if he is disqualified now and Rahul Gandhi's conviction is overturned by a higher appellate court?

Given the order by the Gujarat court his disqualification won't take effect immediately till the time the appellate court delivers its order. His disqualification will remain suspended till then.