In a setback to former Congress President Rahul Gandhi, the Gujarat High Court on July 7 declined to stay his conviction in a criminal defamation case in which he was sentenced to two years in jail by a Surat court.
The High Court noted that the Congress leader used Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name in his speech at a poll rally to “add sensation” and with an intention to “affect the result” of the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
“The accused did not stop there but imputed that ‘saare choro ke naam Modi hi kyu hai (why do all thieves have the Modi surname in common)’. Thus, the present case would certainly fall within the category of seriousness of the offence,” the order said. The court also underlined that he faced as many as 10 criminal cases across the country, including one filed by the grandson of V.D. Savarkar, and held that “it is now the need of the hour to have purity in politics”.
‘Just, proper and legal’
The case relates to Mr. Gandhi’s remarks while campaigning for the 2019 Lok Sabha poll in Karnataka. The High Court upheld the Surat Sessions Court’s ruling in which Mr. Gandhi’s plea seeking a stay on his conviction was rejected. The Surat court’s ruling led to his disqualification as a member of the Lok Sabha.
Justice Hemant Prachchhak, who dismissed the plea, held that the trial court’s sentence of a two-year jail term was “just, proper and legal”. He noted that a stay on a conviction is not the rule, but an exception reserved for rare cases only, and held that the present case did not fall into that category.
“He [Mr. Gandhi] was trying to stay the conviction on absolutely non-existent grounds. It is a well-settled principle of law that staying of conviction is not a rule, but an exception, resorted only in rare cases. Disqualification is not only limited to MPs, MLAs. Moreover, as many as 10 criminal cases are pending against the applicant,” the HC noted in the judgement.
‘Purity in politics’
Referring to the cases Mr. Gandhi is facing, the High Court further observed, “It is now the need of the hour to have purity in politics. Representatives of people should be men of clear antecedent.”
The High Court judge pointed out that after the current complaint was filed, another complaint was submitted to a court in Pune by the grandson of Hindutva ideologue V.D. Savarkar for the Congress leader’s “defamatory utterance against Veer Savarkar at Cambridge”. A separate complaint against him has also been filed in a Lucknow court, he said.
Given this backdrop, a refusal to stay the conviction would not in any way result in injustice to the applicant, the court noted. “The impugned order passed by the appellate court (in Surat) is just, proper and legal, and does not call for any interference. However, it is hereby requested the concerned learned district judge to decide the criminal appeal on its own merits and in accordance with law as expeditiously as possible,” the HC said.
The court also disagreed with Mr. Gandhi’s submission that the offence for which he was convicted was not serious, with the judge noting that his conviction was a “serious matter affecting a large segment of the society and needs to be viewed by this court with the gravity and significance it commands”. The court maintained that it was not an “individual-centric defamation case”, but something which affected a “large section of the society”.
“The offence of Section 499 (dealing with defamation) can certainly be considered to be a serious offence of having a large public character thereby affecting the society at large in a given case wherein a large number of persons of the society have been defamed,” the HC order said.