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UP-based lawyer challenges restoration of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Lok Sabha membership in Supreme Court

A Lucknow-based lawyer has filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the restoration of Lok Sabha membership of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who was convicted in a criminal defamation case over his “all thieves have Modi surname” remark by a Gujarat court.

Filed by Advocate Ashok Pandey, the petition sought quashing of Gandhi’s Lok Sabha membership on the grounds that once Gandhi lost his Lok Sabha membership, after being convicted in a criminal defamation case and was awarded two-years imprisonment, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha was not right in restoring back his lost membership.

Once a member of Parliament or a state legislature lost his office by operation of law in Article 102, 191 of the Constitution read with Section 8 (3) of the Representation of People Act 1951, he would remain disqualified till he was acquitted of all the charges levelled against him by some higher court, it added.

Pandey said in the petition that the order of the Lok Sabha Speaker was merely a formal order through which the vacancy of the office of membership of Rahul Gandhi in the Lok Sabha was notified. 

Rahul Gandhi was disqualified from being chosen as or from being a Member of Parliament and state legislature till his conviction was not set aside by the court of appeal and so to restore his membership and to permit him to continue to work as a Member of Parliament was in clear violation of Article 102 read with Section 8 (3) of the R.P. Act, 1951, he added.

The petition further prayed for a writ of mandamus to the Election Commission of India to notify the vacancy to the seats being held by a Legislator in case of conviction and sentence and to hold the election to choose a new Legislator from that constituency.

It argued that Section 389 of CrPC only permitted the court hearing an appeal against conviction and sentence to suspend the sentence and release the appellant on bail, however, it did not permit the court of appeal to suspend the conviction.

On August 7, the Lok Sabha Secretariat had restored the membership of Rahul Gandhi, which was suspended after his conviction in a criminal defamation case.

The Supreme Court had stayed the conviction on August 4 on the grounds that the trial judge did not give any other reason for awarding maximum sentence under the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act except the admonition by the Supreme Court. 

The Bench of Justice B.R. Gavai, Justice P.S. Narasimha and Justice Sanjay Kumar observed that when the offence was non-cognisable, bailable and compoundable, the trial judge was expected to give reasons for imposing maximum sentence.

Had the sentence been a day lesser, the provisions under the RP Act would not have been attracted, noted the top court of the country. It said though the appellate and the High Court spent voluminous pages rejecting stay on conviction, these aspects were not considered in their orders.

The Apex Court, while noting that the ‘utterances’ of Rahul Gandhi were not in good taste, observed that a person in public life was expected to exercise caution while making public speeches. The Bench further suggested Gandhi to be ‘more careful’ in future.

On July 7, the Single-Judge Bench of Justice Hemant Prachchhak of Gujarat High Court had rejected the review petition filed by Gandhi in the criminal defamation case. The High Court further refused to stay the conviction and two-year jail term awarded to the Congress leader.

It observed that staying the conviction was not a rule and the same must only be exercised in rare cases. The Bench noted that at least 10 criminal cases were pending against Gandhi.

On March 23, a local court in Surat district of Gujarat had convicted Congress MP Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case for his alleged remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April 2019.

The Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate H.H. Varma sentenced Gandhi to two years in jail and also imposed a fine of Rs 15,000 after finding him guilty under Sections 499 (Defamation) and 500 (punishment for Defamation) IPC.

Gandhi’s conviction under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), both of which warranted a maximum sentence of two years, led to his disqualification from the Parliament, as per a Supreme Court order of 2013.

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