The Gujarat High Court has rejected the appeal made by Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, where he sought a stay on his conviction in a criminal defamation case. This development comes after Mr. Gandhi was sentenced to two years in prison in March for his remarks in 2019 about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surname during an election rally. Following his sentencing, he was disqualified as a Member of Parliament (MP). However, the Congress party has announced that Mr. Gandhi will file an appeal against the court’s decision in the Supreme Court.
The Gujarat High Court’s ruling implies that Mr. Gandhi’s conviction is deemed “just and proper.” This decision has dealt a blow to the Congress leader as it prevents him from contesting the upcoming national elections scheduled for next year. Nevertheless, Mr. Gandhi will not face arrest until he has exhausted all legal avenues, as his arrest has been temporarily halted.
The dismissal of Rahul Gandhi’s appeal raises concerns regarding freedom of speech and expression, according to Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a prominent member of the Congress party. Singhvi, who is both a party leader and lawyer, voiced his opinion during a press conference held after the court’s decision. He stated that the case revolves around the fundamental rights of free speech and expression and expressed the belief that the defamation laws have been misused by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He further accused the government of attempting to restrict freedom of expression.
Mallikarjun Kharge, the President of the Congress party, expressed support for Rahul Gandhi, asserting that he is fighting for truth and will continue to do so. However, Mr. Gandhi lost his parliamentary seat on 23 March, following a Supreme Court directive that disqualifies lawmakers convicted of crimes and sentenced to two or more years in prison with immediate effect.
The Congress party strongly criticized Rahul Gandhi’s conviction, accusing the governing BJP of engaging in political vendetta. In response, the BJP denied the allegations, emphasizing that due judicial process was followed in the case.
The defamation case against Mr. Gandhi was filed by BJP lawmaker Purnesh Modi and centered around remarks made by Mr. Gandhi during an election rally in Karnataka in 2019. He had stated, “Why do all these thieves have Modi as their surname? Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi.” Nirav Modi is a fugitive Indian diamond tycoon, while Lalit Modi is a former chief of the Indian Premier League, who has been banned for life by the country’s cricket board.
Purnesh Modi claimed that these comments defamed the entire Modi community. However, Rahul Gandhi clarified that his intention was to highlight corruption and that his comments were not directed at any specific community.
While a lower court had granted Mr. Gandhi bail to appeal against his conviction, the crucial factor for his reinstatement as an MP lies in obtaining a stay or suspension of his conviction.