Guest post by Pallavi Mohan
Recently, the Lok Sabha secretariat disqualified senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, as the Member of Parliament from Wayanad. The disqualification followed a decision by a Surat court convicting Gandhi for defamation and sentencing him to two years of imprisonment. Let us find out the details of the defamation case, the conviction as well Gandhi’s disqualification from the Parliament.
Why was Rahul Gandhi convicted of defamation?
While campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, Gandhi made a statement regarding the name ‘Modi’. A Gujarat minister, Purnesh Modi, had filed a complaint against Gandhi in Surat under Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC, alleging that the statement was defamatory towards the entire Modi community. A Surat court has recently found Gandhi guilty of defamation and sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment. However, the sentence remains suspended for 30 days, giving Gandhi time to avail legal remedies challenging the conviction.
What is the law regarding the disqualification of MPs from the Parliament?
As per Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, if an MP or MLA is convicted for an offence and sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more, they are disqualified from the date of the conviction. They remain disqualified for 6 years.
Before 2013, Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act allowed for the disqualification of an MP or MLA to not come into effect:
- for 3 months from the disqualification, or
- if an appeal or revision against the conviction or the sentence had been filed within those 3 months, until the appeal or revision had been disposed of by the court.
In 2013, the Supreme Court, in Lily Thomas v. Union of India, struck down Section 8(4) as being unconstitutional. The Court held that the Constitution prohibits the Parliament from deferring the date from which the disqualification would come into effect, so the Parliament had no right to enact such a provision.
The Supreme Court further clarified this in 2018 in the case Lok Prahari v. Union of India. It stated that if an Appellate Court stayed the conviction or the sentence, then the continuation of the disqualification would no longer be valid.
What do the Supreme Court rulings imply for Gandhi’s disqualification?
Since Gandhi’s sentence was suspended (stayed) for 30 days by the Surat Court itself, considering the Supreme Court rulings, Gandhi’s disqualification should also remain suspended for that period. If Gandhi challenges his conviction or sentence in the appellate court and secures a stay, then his disqualification would remain suspended till the court disposes of the challenge. This means Gandhi can continue to attend Parliament as an MP for 30 days from the sentencing and for any further period during which his challenge is pending.