Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified as a Lok Sabha Member of Parliament (MP) after a Surat court convicted him in a defamation case. The Lok Sabha Secretariat issued a notice stating that Gandhi stood disqualified from the House starting from March 23, the day of his conviction.
The defamation case relates to a speech that Gandhi gave during the 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign. In the speech, he made remarks about the “Modi” surname that were deemed defamatory by the complainant. On March 23, the Surat court held Gandhi guilty and sentenced him to two years in jail.
As per the law, an MP stands disqualified from their position upon being convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for a period of two or more years. This disqualification operates immediately from the date of the conviction, and the MP loses their membership of the House.
Gandhi now has the option to appeal against his conviction in a higher court and seek a stay on the order. Until the time his conviction is stayed or overturned, he cannot be a member of the Lok Sabha or participate in its proceedings. This development has come as a setback to the Congress party, which is already struggling to regain its footing in national politics.
What did the Surat Court rule?
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been convicted and sentenced to two years in prison in a 2019 defamation case by Chief Judicial Magistrate HH Verma. The case pertains to a remark made by Gandhi during a rally in Kolar, Karnataka, where he said, “Why do all thieves, be it Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, or Narendra Modi, have Modi in their names?”
Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) prescribes simple imprisonment for defamation, which may extend to two years or a fine, or both. Following the conviction, the court approved Gandhi’s bail on a surety of Rs 15,000 and suspended the sentence for 30 days to allow him to appeal the verdict.
This development comes as a major setback for Gandhi and the Congress party, which is already struggling to gain a foothold in national politics. The conviction has also resulted in Gandhi’s disqualification as a Lok Sabha MP, as per the law that mandates the disqualification of an MP upon being convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for a period of two or more years.
Gandhi now has the option to move a higher court and seek a stay on his conviction. Until then, he cannot be a member of the Lok Sabha or participate in its proceedings. The Congress party has expressed disappointment over the verdict and has extended its support to Gandhi, calling the case politically motivated.
Why was Gandhi disqualified?
The disqualification of a lawmaker in India can occur in three situations. The first situation is outlined in Articles 102(1) and 191(1) of the Constitution, which prescribe the grounds for disqualification of a Member of Parliament and a Member of the Legislative Assembly, respectively. These grounds include holding an office of profit, being of unsound mind or insolvent, or lacking valid citizenship.
The second situation arises from the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, which provides for the disqualification of members on grounds of defection. This provision aims to prevent lawmakers from defecting to other political parties and destabilizing the elected government.
The third situation that can lead to the disqualification of a lawmaker is under The Representation of The People Act (RPA), 1951. This law provides for disqualification in cases where a lawmaker is convicted in a criminal case. The disqualification is immediate upon conviction and can result in the loss of the lawmaker’s seat in the legislature.
In Rahul Gandhi’s case, he was disqualified under the third situation, as he was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison in a defamation case. As per the law, he stood disqualified from the Lok Sabha from the day of his conviction. The disqualification of a lawmaker is an important safeguard for ensuring the integrity of the legislative process and upholding the rule of law.
What does the RPA say?
The Representation of The People Act (RPA) contains various provisions that deal with disqualification of lawmakers. Section 9 of the Act deals with disqualification for corruption, disloyalty, or entering into government contracts while being a lawmaker. Section 10 deals with disqualification for failing to lodge an account of election expenses. Another significant provision is Section 11, which deals with disqualification for corrupt practices.
Section 8 of the RPA pertains to disqualification for conviction of offenses. The provision aims to prevent the criminalization of politics by keeping “tainted” lawmakers from contesting elections. The disqualification is triggered for conviction under certain offenses listed in Section 8(1) of the Act, including promoting enmity between two groups, bribery, and undue influence or personation at an election. However, defamation is not listed as one of the offenses under this section.
Section 8(2) lists offenses that deal with hoarding or profiteering, adulteration of food or drugs, and conviction and sentence of at least six months for an offense under any provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act.
Section 8(3) states that a person convicted of any offense and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years shall be disqualified from the date of conviction and continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since their release.
In summary, the RPA contains various provisions for the disqualification of lawmakers for different offenses. The aim is to prevent the criminalization of politics and maintain the integrity of the legislative process.
How does the disqualification operate?
If a higher court grants a stay on the conviction or decides in favor of the convicted lawmaker, the disqualification can be reversed. In the 2018 case of ‘Lok Prahari v Union of India,’ the Supreme Court clarified that the disqualification “will not operate from the date of the stay of conviction by the appellate court.”
However, the stay cannot simply be a suspension of sentence under Section 389 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), but a stay of conviction. The CrPC allows an appellate court to suspend the sentence of a convict while the appeal is pending, similar to releasing the appellant on bail.
Therefore, in Gandhi’s case, his first appeal would be before the Surat Sessions Court and then before the Gujarat High Court. If the higher courts stay his conviction or overturn it in his favor, he may be eligible to contest elections and hold public office once again.
How has this law changed?
According to Section 8(4) of the RPA, the disqualification would come into force only “after three months have elapsed” from the date of conviction, during which the lawmakers could challenge the verdict by filing an appeal before the High Court.
But in a significant ruling in 2013, in the case of ‘Lily Thomas v Union of India’, the Supreme Court declared Section 8(4) of the RPA unconstitutional.