New Delhi, March 23 (India Today): Thursday, a lower court in Gujarat’s Surat city convicted Congress MP Rahul Gandhi in a criminal defamation case lodged against him over his Modi surname remark. He has been sentenced to two years in jail.
The case was filed against Rahul Gandhi for his alleged “how come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?” remark on a complaint lodged by Gujarat BJP leader Purnesh Modi. The complainant had claimed that the controversial remark defamed the entire Modi community.
So, what happens now? Rahul Gandhi has got bail and he will go in for an appeal in the sessions court. But here is what the legal aspect concerning his future looks like.
2013 SC ORDER
On July 10, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that any MP, MLA or MLC, convicted of a crime and given a minimum of two years imprisonment, will lose their seat immediately.
It was not like this prior to the order. Earlier, convicted MPs, MLAs and MLCs held onto their seats until they exhausted all judicial remedies in district courts, high courts and the Supreme Court.
On July 10, 2013, a Supreme Court bench of Justices AK Patnaik and SJ Mukhopadhaya declared unconstitutional Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, which had allowed elected representatives three months to appeal their conviction.
WHEN MANMOHAN GOVT STEPPED IN
When the Supreme Court order came, Congress ally Lalu Yadav of the RJD looked set for his first conviction in the fodder scam case. The Congress-led UPA government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tried to overturn the top court order by bringing in the Representation of the People (Second Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2013. It was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on August 30 by Law Minister Kapil Sibal. The amendment proposed that people’s representatives would not be disqualified immediately after conviction. The Centre also filed a review petition, which the Supreme Court dismissed.
RAHUL TRASHES ORDINANCE
On September 24, a few days before the fodder scam verdict, the Centre tried to bring the bill into effect as an Ordinance but met with the unlikeliest of opposition: from then Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi himself. At a press conference in Delhi, he called the Ordinance “complete nonsense that should be torn up and thrown away” he said that was his personal opinion. He did that when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was abroad.
LALU YADAV DISQUALIFIED
Days after what Rahul Gandhi said, his personal opinion was taken seriously. The Manmohan Singh government withdrew both the Ordinance and the Bill. In October 2013, Lalu Yadav was disqualified as a member of the Lok Sabha. He was then disqualified from contesting elections for 11 years: five years of his jail term and six years (under the Representation of the People Act) subsequent to his release. Since then, the RJD leader has been convicted in some more cases of the fodder scam, ending his electoral career.
THE AZAM KHAN CASE
As per the Representation of the People Act of 1951, MPs, MLAs and MLCs lose their seats if they are sentenced to two years in jail or more. After such a conviction, they are not voters for six years and, thus, cannot contest elections during that period. In October 2022, Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan was disqualified from his Rampur seat after being sentenced to three years in jail in a 2019 hate speech case. More recently, Azam Khan’s MLA son also met the same fate.
THE RAHUL IMPACT
When senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad quit the party last year, he mentioned in his resignation letter the Ordinance-trashing incident, saying, “Rahul Gandhi demolished the entire consultative mechanism of the Congress after he entered politics, particularly after he was made the party vice president by Sonia Gandhi.”
What Rahul Gandhi said at the press conference about his own government’s Ordinance gave fodder to the Opposition, then led by the BJP, which went to town highlighting the “total confusion” within the government under PM Manmohan Singh who was anyway accused of being subservient to the Gandhis at a time when the Congress was already facing massive backlash over spiralling corruption charges. Against this backdrop, the 2014 national polls took place and Gujarat CM and new BJP Hindutva mascot Narendra Modi became the prime minister.
After Thursday’s sentencing, Rahul Gandhi wrote his reaction on Twitter. But it’s also quite likely that he must have thought of the moment when he trashed that Ordinance.