Rahul Gandhi moves Supreme Court in defamation case

Mr. Gandhi also sought a stay of a Gujarat High Court judgment which upheld his conviction. He said the High Court verdict “has no parallel or precedent in the jurisprudence of the law of defamation”.

July 15, 2023 06:23 pm | Updated 11:15 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi approaches the Supreme Court against the Gujarat High Court’s refusal top stay his conviction in the criminal defamation case.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi approaches the Supreme Court against the Gujarat High Court’s refusal top stay his conviction in the criminal defamation case. | Photo Credit: ANI

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on July 15 moved the Supreme Court to suspend his conviction in a criminal defamation case in which he said a political speech critical of economic offenders and also of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, made in the course of democratic political activity, has been held to be an act of moral turpitude.

Mr. Gandhi also sought a stay of a Gujarat High Court judgment which upheld his conviction. He said the High Court verdict “has no parallel or precedent in the jurisprudence of the law of defamation”.

Editorial | Dangerously fanciful: On the judiciary, Rahul Gandhi’s conviction and the defamation case

The defamation case was related to his “Modi” surname remark allegedly made during a political rally in Karnataka’s Kolar district in 2019.

“Unprecedentedly, in a case of criminal defamation, a maximum sentence of two years has been imposed. This itself is a rarest of rare occurrence. The sentence has been suspended for the asking. However, conviction is not stayed/suspended. This has resulted in the inexorable exclusion of the petitioner from all political elective office for a long period of eight years. That too, in the world’s largest democracy where the petitioner has been a former president of the oldest political movement in the country and is also continuously in the vanguard of opposition political activity,” the petition said.

Challenging the July 7 High Court decision, Mr. Gandhi contended that he was served a two-year conviction for allegedly defaming an “undefined amorphous group” which according to the complainant, Gujarat MLA Purnesh Ishwarbhai Modi, had wronged the reputation of “13 crore people”. Defamation law required the wrong to be done to a well-defined class of people, and not a vague group.

Editorial | Imagined slur: On the implications of the Rahul Gandhi defamation case

Moreover, he contended that it was “not only curious but extremely significant, indeed sinister, that all earlier cases, including the one regarding the present speech, were filed by members and office bearers of the ruling party”.

“It is ironic that the only persons allegedly defamed out of a supposed defined community of 13 crore persons are those who are office bearers or senior personnel of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party!” Mr. Gandhi contended.

The Congress leader said the complaint itself was not sustainable in law as the alleged imputations were perceived as against Prime Minister Narendra Modi individually.

“Only Shri Narendra Modi can be considered as the person aggrieved of the offence of defamation and only Shri Narendra Modi can file a complaint for the same and Shri Purnesh Modi, the complainant, has no right to file the complaint on his behalf,” the petition said.

Mr. Gandhi argued that the defamation complaint was an attempt to muffle political dialogue.

“A political speech in the course of democratic political activity, critical of economic offenders, and also of Shri Narendra Modi, has been held to be an act of moral turpitude inviting the harshest punishment. Such a finding is gravely detrimental to democratic free speech in the midst of a political campaign. It is respectfully submitted that the same will set a disastrous precedent wiping out any form of political dialogue or debate which is remotely critical in any manner,” the petition said.

The Gujarat High Court erred in its conclusion that the alleged defamation in Mr. Gandhi’s case suffered from “moral turpitude”.

“The term ‘moral turpitude’ has been misapplied to a case which is not one relating to any heinous offense (e.g., murder, rape or other immoral activity) and ex facie cannot apply to an offense where the legislature thought it fit to provide for a maximum punishment of only two years,” the petition contended.

It submitted that the surname ‘Modi’, in different parts of the country, encompassed different communities and sub-communities, which usually have no commonality or uniformity at all. The Modi surname belonged to various castes.

The complainant, who simply has a ‘Modi’ surname, did not prove that he was prejudiced or damaged in any specific or personal sense, it noted.

“The most important ingredient of the offence, an intention to defame, has admittedly not been proved in the case on the basis of any evidence,” the petition noted.

The petition said 112 days have passed since Mr. Gandhi’s disqualification from the House. The byelection for the Wayanad constituency may be announced any time. There is a constitutional mandate under Section 151A of the Representation of People Act 1951 to not allow the vacancy of a seat for more than six months The monsoon session of the 16th Lok Sabha is slated to begin on July 20, 2023.

“The failure to get ad-interim or interim relief will disentitle him from partaking in the proceedings and represent his party and his constituency,” it submitted to the top court.

Mr. Gandhi’s petition in the Supreme Court has been drawn by advocates Tarannum Cheema and Prasanna S. and settled by senior advocates Prashanto Kumar Sen, Harin P. Raval, R.S. Cheema and re-settled by senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.