BHOPAL: Five days after being disqualified as Vidhan Sabha member on being convicted and handed a two-year jail term in a 2014 criminal case, opposition BJP MLA Prahlad Lodhi on Thursday got relief from the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which stayed the conviction and sentence till January 7, 2020.
Granting relief to Lodhi, who had appealed against Special Court-Bhopal’s October 31 order, the single judge bench of MP High Court in Jabalpur, headed by Justice Vishnu Pratap Singh Chauhan, directed that the conviction and sentence of the appellant shall remain suspended till January 7, 2020.
In its interim order passed on Thursday, the bench also observed that on the basis of the discussions without commenting on their merits, the court had found a strong case in favour of the appellant for suspension of sentence.
The HC also ordered that case be listed for final hearing within two months after completing all the procedural formalities.
The state’s former Advocate General RN Singh, who appeared for the appellant politician in the case before the HC, told Express that with the HC suspending both the conviction and sentence, the MP Vidhan Sabha Speaker’s November 2 order disqualifying his client as a House member and declaring his assembly constituency vacant automatically became “non-existent” now.
Former MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan and state BJP president Rakesh Singh also said that Speaker Narmada Prasad Prajapati’s November 2 order no longer existed. The former Vidhan Sabha Speaker Dr Sitasaran Sharma also said the Speaker’s order stood null and void now.
“The Speaker should issue a fresh order about his November 2 order being no longer effective,” demanded the ex-Speaker.
Reacting to the development, legal eagle and Congress’s Rajya Sabha member Vivek Tankha said, “The state government will file a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court and whatever the apex court decides in the matter will be followed subsequently.”
Meanwhile, the present Vidhan Sabha Speaker Narmada Prasad Prajapati said, “I acted in the matter in accordance with the relevant Supreme Court order. The government is going to SC in the matter now and whatever the apex court decides will be the final decision.”
The first-time BJP legislator from Pawai assembly seat (who defeated Congress veteran and ex-minister Mukesh Nayak in the 2018 polls) was convicted by a Special Court in Bhopal on October 31, 2019 in a 2014 case pertaining to assault on a government team in Panna district. The special court awarded two years in jail along with a fine to the 12 convicted accused, including the BJP MLA.
Two days later, the Vidhan Sabha Speaker Narmada Prasad Prajapati declared the convicted BJP MLA disqualified as also his assembly constituency vacant. The decision was subsequently intimated to the Election Commission via the Chief Electoral Officer of MP VL Kantha Rao.
On November 2013, the Vidhan Sabha Speaker Narmada Prasad Prajapati after getting the certified copy of the court order, had declared the concerned MLA disqualified in pursuance of a 2013 Supreme Court order which paved passage for automatic disqualification of a lawmaker if awarded punishment of two years or more in a criminal case. Five years later, the SC, had decided in a similar matter that lawmakers sentenced to two years or more in prison shall stand disqualified from House membership if the conviction and sentence wasn’t stayed.
Meanwhile, stung by the conviction of the party MLA in the 2014 case, the Leader of Opposition and ex-MP minister Gopal Bhargava has written to all BJP MLAs, seeking details of cases, if any, in which they are accused in the Special Court in Bhopal. He has asked the MLAs to submit details of such pending/under trial criminal cases within seven days.
This development is also being seen as an outcome of Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s recent statements that more such deeds (like Lodhi’s case) of BJP leaders will come out soon and the Congress will get 2-3 more seats as a result.
Till Lodhi’s disqualification from the House is annulled, the BJP will only have 107 members in the presently 229-strong Vidhan Sabha. The ruling Congress with 115 members (one less than a simple majority in the full 230-member house) and the support of seven allied MLAs is in a comfortable position in the House.