The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday reserved its orders on a criminal revision petition filed by former Congress president Rahul Gandhi seeking a stay on his conviction in the “Modi surname” remark case.
The court also declined to give any interim protection and said the verdict would be pronounced post summer vacation. Citing “extreme urgency,” Mr. Gandhi’s lawyer had sought interim protection, a plea rejected by the court after final arguments.
The High Court goes for summer vacation from May 5 to June 4.
The court of Justice Hemant Prachchhak observed that it is in the interest and fitness of the case that the matter be decided finally, and refused interim protection at this stage. The judge directed the trial court to produce original proceedings and records of the case.
On Tuesday, the court heard the arguments from Mitesh Amin, for the State of Gujarat, senior counsel Nirupam Nanavati, who appeared for BJP MLA Purnesh Modi, the original complainant in the case, who both opposed the prayer for interim relief from Mr. Gandhi’s counsel, Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
Mr. Nanavati also argued that Mr. Gandhi was facing multiple cases of defamation in several places and therefore this was not the only case against him.
He contended that the staying of the conviction was a discretionary relief and must be granted in rarest of rare circumstances.
Mr. Singhvi, senior counsel, held that defamation was not in the category of heinous crime and therefore sought protection for the petitioner.
Earlier on April 29, Mr. Gandhi’s lawyer had contended that a maximum punishment of two years for a bailable, non-cognisable offence meant he could lose his Lok Sabha seat “permanently and irreversibly,” which was a “very serious additional irreversible consequence to the person and the constituency he represents.”
However, Mr. Nanavati said Mr. Gandhi was not disqualified by the court but was disqualified by the Parliament as per the provisions of the law.
Also read: Defamation perils: on the Rahul Gandhi case
The High Court heard Mr. Gandhi’s appeal against the sessions court’s order last month refusing to stay his conviction in the 2019 defamation case after a trial court in Surat convicted and sentenced him to two years in jail, leading to his disqualification as a member of Parliament.
The Congress leader was elected to the Lok Sabha from Wayanad in Kerala in 2019.
The Surat trial court on March 23 sentenced the former Congress chief to two years imprisonment after convicting him under Indian Penal Code Sections 499 and 500 (related to criminal defamation) in the case filed by Mr. Purnesh Modi.
Mr. Modi, a former Gujarat Minister, had filed a criminal defamation case against Mr. Gandhi over his “How come all thieves have Modi as the common surname?” remark made during an election rally at Kolar in Karnataka on April 13, 2019.
On April 3, 2023, Mr. Gandhi’s lawyer approached the Surat sessions court and filed two applications — one for bail and the other for stay of conviction — pending his appeal along with his main appeal against the lower court order sentencing him to two years in jail.
While the sessions court granted bail to Mr. Gandhi, it rejected his plea for stay on conviction.
On April 26, Gujarat High Court judge Justice Jita Gopi recused herself from hearing the case after it was presented for an urgent hearing.
The matter was then assigned to Justice Prachchhak .