Congress leader and Member of Parliament Rahul Gandhi was disqualified as MP following a March 23 sentencing and conviction by a Surat court on a defamation charge. The Surat court had held him guilty in a 2019 defamation case for saying in an election rally that “all thieves have Modi as their surname”.
A notification issued by the Lok Sabha secretariat on March 24 said: “Consequent upon his conviction by the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Surat…Rahul Gandhi, Member of Lok Sabha representing the Wayanad Parliamentary Constituency of Kerala, stands disqualified from the membership of Lok Sabha from the date of his conviction, i.e., March 23, 2023, in terms of the provisions of Article 102 (1) (e) of the Constitution of India read with Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.” The notification was signed by Lok Sabha secretary general Utpal Kumar Singh.
Reacting to the disqualification, Congress leader and MP Shashi Tharoor said: “I’m stunned by this action and by its rapidity, within 24 hours of the court verdict and while an appeal was known to be in process. This is politics with the gloves off and bodes ill for our democracy.”
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said on Twitter: “We will fight this battle both legally and politically. We will not be intimidated or silenced.”
K.C. Venugopal, Congress MP and close confidant of Rahul Gandhi, told a media outlet that this was because Rahul Gandhi dared to raise the issue of Adani’s wrongdoings and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s complicity in the whole affair. He said: “This type of conspiracy was started to silence Rahul Gandhi. It is a clear case of anti-democratic dictatorship attitude of the BJP government.”
Act and disqualification
Sections 8 (1), 8 (2), and 8 (3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, deal with the question of disqualification of an elected representative. Under Section 8 (1), if a MP/MLA is convicted for ‘x’ number of years, he or she will be disqualified from contesting for x+6 years. Rahul Gandhi was disqualified under Section 8 (3) and, as on date, he stands disqualified for a total of eight years (two years of his sentence plus six years).
Hence, if the Congress goes on appeal, the appellate court will not only have to stay the sentence but also suspend his conviction to contest the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
A senior politician, while condemning the conviction, said that it was Rahul Gandhi’s earlier “immaturity” which had led to the current state of affairs. In 2013, when the Supreme Court overturned Section 8 (4) of the RPA in the Lily Thomas case (this provided for MLAs/MPs to continue to be people’s representatives until the case is finally disposed of), the United Progressive Alliance government brought in an amendment to overcome the judgment. At that time, this was done to help RJD leader Lalu Prasad. Rahul Gandhi made a huge ruckus and tore up the Bill publicly, ahead of it being considered by Parliament.
Congress whip Manickam Tagore told Frontline that Rahul Gandhi became a target the day he spoke about Adani-Modi nexus in Parliament on February 7. He said: “Just a week later the stay on the defamation case was lifted and the case was fast-tracked. This is clear attempt to silence Rahul Gandhi, who has been severely critical of the BJP government, which is working for just one company and not the people of India.”