BREAKING:[Defamation Case] Gujarat HC denies any interim protection to Rahul Gandhi; Final verdict to be passed post vacations

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A Magistrate Court in Surat has held Rahul Gandhi “guilty” in the defamation case over his ‘Modi Surname’ remark. He has been sentenced to two years in jail. This order led to the disqualification of the Congress leader from Parliament membership.

The Gujarat High Court today refused to grant any interim protection to Rahul Gandhi against his conviction in the 2019 criminal defamation case over his Modi surname remark.

The bench of Justice Hemant Prachchhak passed the order after hearing detailed arguments advanced by all the parties.

Justice Prachchhak opined that in the interest and fitness of the case, only after going through the records of the proceedings, a final order can be passed.

Before the arguments began today, Justice Prachchhak had already directed the trial court to send the original records of the matter to the high court on or before May 15, 2023. 

Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi appeared on behalf of the Congress leader and Senior Advocate Nirupam Nanavati argued for complainant Purnesh Modi. Public Prosecutor Mitesh Amin represented the state in the proceedings before the high court. 

Today, Sr Adv Nirupam Nanavati countered the arguments put forth by Sr Adv Singhvi in the earlier hearing that the offence committed by Gandhi was not a serious offence. He said that Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 provides that if a person is convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years, then he will be disqualified from the membership of the Parliament. 

Nanavati said that Gandhi has been awarded 2 years imprisonment by the trial court and by virtue of the same he has been disqualified, therefore, the offence committed by him cannot be called non-serious. 

During the previous hearing, Sr Adv Singhvi had pressed for stay on conviction mainly on the following six points:

1. The present case does not pertain to a serious offence. It is nothing in the nature of murder, rape, abduction, etc carrying a sentence of 5 yrs, 6 yrs, or a life sentence.

2. It is also not a case of moral turpitude.

3. The offence alleged does not make a non-societal case.

4. The offence alleged is non-cognizable and bailable.

5. It can only lead to simple imprisonment.

6. The consequences of not granting stay on conviction will be drastic.

Apart from these six points, Singhvi had raised another point that if the conviction is not stayed, Rahul Gandhi will stay debarred from contesting the elections for a period of eight years which is a semi-permanent period in politics.

Today, Senior Advocate Nirupam Nanavati for complainant Purnesh Modi opposed all the contentions raised and said that the opposite party, during the entire earlier proceeding, did not even once said that he cannot be a aggreived in the present matter and now they are questioning his locus. 

He added that the opposite party also failed to point out any legal infirmity in the order of the sessions court and when they had an opportunity to raise their objections before the appellate court regarding locus and other points that they're making now, they did not attempt so. 

Nanvati also pointed court's attention to Gandhi's attitude after his disqualification from Parliament.

"The Congress leader said that his name is Gandhi and not Savarkar and Gandhis do not apologize. He also reportedly called the disqualification a gift. Then why now he is seeking relief!! If it was a gift, then keep the gist. Why is he fighting it now?" Nanvati argued.

He further apprised the court that after the complaint in the present matter, at least three more complaints have been filed against the Congress leader for his defamatory statements against Veer Savarkar and other public figures.

"Look at his conduct! The relief he is seeking is at the court's discretion. It is to be noted that he (Rahul Gandhi) never showed any remorse for his acts. He keeps making the same defamatory remarks. With this kind of attitude, does he deserve any relief?," Nanvati asserted.

After completiton on submissions by Sr Adv Nanavati, Public Prosecutor Mitesh Amin submitted that the duty of the lawmakers is to uphold the law but Gandhi himself is breaking the law which makes the case more serious, therefore, he should not be granted any relief. 

Thereafter, Sr Adv Singhvi for Rahul Gandhi countered the arguments raised by the opposite counsel and said that defamation is low-category offence and in the present matter, the irreversibility of the consequences and balance of convenience should be considered while adjudicating the plea filed under Section 389 of CrPC. 

"Can there be something more irreversible than a disqualification that robs you of a status of a parliamentarian. Here, the loss is three-fold. Apart from parliamentary sessions, I have missed meetings of Parliamentary Committees also which is a personal loss as I missed the chance to project the voice of the people. The second loss is to the people of the constituency I represent. And the third loss is to the nation as there will be no parliamentary democracy," Singhvi argued.

Defamation case and Gandhi's conviction:

In 2019, Gandhi in a poll rally at Kolar in Karnataka, said, “how come all thieves have Modi as the common surname”. Thereafter, a defamation case was filed against Gandhi by Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) MLA and former Gujarat Minister Purnesh Modi, under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code. 

On March 23, 2023, the Congress leader who was then a parliamentarian from Wayanad, Kerala, was convicted by Surat District Court and sentenced to two years in jail. This conviction led to Gandhi's disqualification from his membership in Lok Sabha. 

Appeal and plea for stay on conviction:

Gandhi then filed an appeal before the Sessions Court. Also, the appeal being pending, Gandhi moved an interim application seeking stay on his conviction. Senior Advocate RS Cheema appearing for Gandhi argued that the trial in the matter was not fair and the decision of the magistrate court was strange. He alleged that the judge had made a "hotchpotch" of all the evidence on record.

However, the Sessions Court rejected the Congress leader's plea while noting in the order that "Rahul Gandhi failed to demonstrate that by not staying the conviction and denying an opportunity to contest the election, an irreversible and irrevocable damage will be caused to him".

Gandhi then filed an appeal before the high court against the decision of the Sessions Court.