Defamation case: Rahul Gandhi disqualified as MP; may be barred from contesting polls for 8 years
Rahul had earlier attended the Lok Sabha session on Friday. However, he could not speak as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Om Birla, adjourned the proceedings till noon.
Published: 24th March 2023 12:03 PM | Last Updated: 27th March 2023 03:55 PM | A+A A-
NEW DELHI: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was Friday disqualified from the Lok Sabha, a day after he was convicted by a Surat court for two years in a 2019 defamation case. The disqualification kicked in from March 23, the day of his conviction, a notice by the Lok Sabha Secretariat said.
In his first response, Rahul said in a tweet, “I’m fighting for the voice of India. I’m ready to pay any price.” Shocked by the decision, the Congress party decided to hit the streets and take the matter to the people. At a high-level meeting, the party decided to hold mass agitations across the country from Monday. “From Monday, party workers will hold protests to ‘save democracy’ across states, districts, block and panchayat levels,” said party leader Jairam Ramesh.
While the top brass of the party came out all guns blazing against the BJP, the mood was aptly captured by its national spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi who said the issue before the Congress was more political than legal. “It is a political issue because it signifies the systematic, repetitive emasculation of democratic institutions by the ruling party. It signifies the strangulation of democracy itself,” he said.
Rahul won’t be able to fight elections for eight years unless he gets a stay on conviction. “We are confident we will get a stay on conviction and will remove the very basis of this disqualification, said Singhvi. It takes time to draft and file the appeal, he added, saying “They (govt) are taking advantage of that time through these disqualification notices but we have full faith in the law.”
Singhvi pointed to some disturbing features in the disqualification. “Though the conviction is by a court, in Rahul’s case, the disqualification under Article 103 of the Constitution has to be by the President of India and under 103, the President has to first get the recommendation from the EC before disqualification. Admittedly it was not done,” he said.
Echoing him, Ramesh said, “Rahul is paying the price for the success of the Yatra and for questioning Adani’s corruption and the Modi government’s misdeeds.”
In his pushback, BJP leader and I&B minister Anurag Thakur called Rahul a habitual loose cannon, recalling he had submitted a written apology to the Supreme Court for his intemperate remarks in 2018. Thakur went on to allege that Rahul considers himself above Parliament, the government, the judicial system and the country. He added that the Gandhi scion is on bail in as many as seven cases.
ALSO READ | Will fight 'legally and politically': Congress on Rahul's LS disqualification
Barred from contesting polls
The Representation of the People Act, 1951, the law that governs elections in India, mandates the disqualification of any politician who is “convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years.” The law also mandates that a convicted legislator cannot contest elections for six years after the end of their jail sentence. Rahul Gandhi faces the risk of not being able to contest the Lok Sabha elections in 2024 if his conviction is not suspended or overturned by a higher court before the elections. Following his disqualification, Gandhi would not be able to contest elections for eight years unless a higher court stays his conviction and sentence.
Focus back on ‘vacant’ Wayanad seat
If Rahul does not get a favourable verdict from a higher court, his Wayanad constituency in Kerala would witness a bypoll, as general elections are more than a year away. If the Election Commission of India decides to hold by-elections in Wayanad, it could be along with the Karnataka Assembly polls, the announcement of which is expected in April. Wayanad is a safe seat for Congress, which is why Rahul switched to it from Amethi in UP. Though neither the LDF nor the UDF have started discussions on candidates, the seat would witness a strong fight if the bypoll is held.
Rahul's history with the RP Act
In 2013, the top court, in its judgement in the Lily Thomas case, had struck down section 8(4) of the RP Act that gave a convicted lawmaker the power to remain in office on the grounds that appeals have been filed within three months of the conviction. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, in 2013, had attempted to nullify the Supreme Court ruling striking down the RP Act provision which gave protection from disqualification for three months. Incidentally, it was Gandhi who had opposed the ordinance brought by the Congress party in a press conference where he proceeded to tear it as a mark of protest, also terming it "complete nonsense."
How are various leaders reacting to Gandhi's disqualification?
The West Bengal CM alleged that the Opposition has become the prime target of the BJP under PM Modi's 'New India'. Banerjee further said that while BJP leaders with criminal records are inducted into the cabinet, Opposition leaders are disqualified for their speeches. "Today, we have witnessed a new low for our constitutional democracy," she added.
The Union Minister alleged that Rahul Gandhi abused the OBC community by calling the entire community 'chor'. He added that freedom of speech does not allow anyone to defame or insult a community. Yadav further claimed that Gandhi is not even seeking an apology for his remarks.
The Congress MP alleged that the day Rahul Gandhi raised questions against the Adani issue and the PM, a conspiracy was hatched to silence Gandhi. He claimed that this was a clear case of the anti-democratic, dictatorship attitude of the BJP govt.
"We will fight this battle both legally & politically. We will not be intimidated or silenced. Instead of a JPC into the PM-linked Adani MahaMegaScam, Rahul Gandhi stands disqualified. Indian Democracy Om Shanti," tweeted the Congress General Secretary in-charge of Communications.
The Union Minister says, "Rahul Gandhi is on a bail in a corruption case of National Herald...He is habitual of going far from the truth in Parliament...I think Rahul Gandhi believes he's above Parliament, law, country, he's privileged & Gandhi family can do anything."
"I’m stunned by this action and by its rapidity, within 24 hours of the court verdict and while an appeal was known to be in process. This is politics with the gloves off and it bodes ill for our democracy," tweeted the Congress MP.
#RahulGandhi's disqualification effective from date of his conviction March 23: Lok Sabha Secretariat. pic.twitter.com/s8jOdIkRam
— The New Indian Express (@NewIndianXpress) March 24, 2023
Rahul had earlier attended the Lok Sabha session on Friday. However, he could not speak as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Om Birla, adjourned the proceedings till noon due to protests by both the Opposition and Treasury Benches. The House witnessed noisy scenes as Congress members demanded that Rahul be allowed to speak.
#WATCH | UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi arrives at the residence of Rahul Gandhi in Delhi pic.twitter.com/IABtmJZKRf
— ANI (@ANI) March 24, 2023
Earlier, there had been differing views on whether the Congress leader would be disqualified as an MP following his conviction. Constitutional expert PDT Achary told The New Indian Express that although disqualification takes effect from the date of conviction, it is relatable to the sentence.
“Now that the trial court has suspended the sentence for 30 days, he can appeal to the appellate court within 30 days. If the appellate court stays both conviction and sentence, then the disqualification will also get suspended,” he said.
A Surat court on Thursday sentenced the Wayanad MP to two years in prison over a 2019 criminal defamation case filed against him over his 'Modi surname' remarks during an election speech in Kolar in Karnataka. However, the trial court suspended Gandhi's sentence for 30 days.
On Thursday, Congress MP and lawyer Abhishek Singhvi said that the party will challenge the order in a higher court and the conviction was ‘erroneous and unsustainable’. According to sources, the party is going all out to challenge the order and has decided to throw its weight behind the former Congress President. The party is consulting Constitutional and top legal experts, said a senior leader.
The party has also decided to intensify protests across the country against the court order. While the party called a meeting of steering committee members, CLP leaders, and others for a meeting in the evening, Opposition leaders will march to Vijay Chowk at noon.
ALSO READ | No automatic disqualification: Achary
(With additional inputs from online desk)