Congress leader Hardik Patel's plans to contest Lok Sabha election hit a roadblock on Friday as the Gujarat high court rejected his plea seeking a stay to his conviction in the 2015 Vispur rioting case.
As the last date for filing of nominations is April 4, the Patidar leader has little time to approach the Supreme Court to challenge the ruling.
Patel had started preparations to contest from Jamnagar on a Congress ticket after joining the party on March 12. Polling for 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat will be held on April 23.
Under the Representation of the People Act and a related Supreme Court ruling, a convict facing a jail term of two years or more cannot stand for election unless the conviction is stayed.
Opposing Patel's plea before Justice A G Uraizee, the state government had pointed out that Patel is facing 17 FIRs, including two sedition complaints.
He was known for making inflammatory speeches, the BJP government told the court.
Hardik's lawyers had said if the conviction was not stayed, it will cause "irreparable damage" as he intended to contest the Lok Sabha election.
No one had seen Patel being on the spot of rioting and the trial court did not examine any independent witnesses, they said.
After Friday's ruling, Patel's lawyers said they would study it and decide whether to approach the apex court.
In the order, the high court noted that a conviction can be stayed only in rare and exceptional cases, and Patel's case did not fall into that category.
The court noted the government's submission that he was facing 17 FIRs, and said that looking at this criminal background, no relief can be granted.
The sessions court at Visnagar in Mehsana district sentenced Patel to two years' imprisonment last July for rioting and arson in Visnagar town in 2015 during the Patidar quota stir which he led.
The high court in August 2018 suspended the sentence but not the conviction.
Patel, expected to be a star campaigner for the Congress, said in a statement that he welcomed the judgement.
"I welcome Gujarat High Court's decision. Elections come and go. But the BJP is working against Constitutional principles. Why a 25-year-old Congress leader is being stopped from contesting polls?
"Many BJP leaders were also convicted. But it seems that all the laws are meant only for us (opposition)," he said.
He said he will campaign for Congress across the country including Gujarat. "My only fault is that I did not bow down to the BJP. This is the result of fighting against the power," he added.
Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi alleged the ruling party was doing everything to stop the young leader from contesting polls as it was afraid of him.
BJP leader and Union minister Mansukh Mandaviya said the Congress leaders' reactions were disappointing.
"The BJP has not stopped Hardik from contesting polls. The judgement was delivered by the high court, not us. While making adverse remarks about the court, Congress is forgetting that courts are constitutional bodies," he said.