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India’s top court suspends opposition leader’s conviction for defamation

The Congress party’s Rahul Gandhi has been restored as an MP, paving the way for him to contest the 2024 national elections

India’s top court stayed the conviction of Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday, reinstating him as a member of parliament. The conviction related to a defamatory remark over the ‘Modi’ surname that was deemed an insult to the Indian prime minister.

The Supreme Court decision will allow Gandhi to contest the country’s crucial national elections next year. It said that the trial court in Surat had not given a reason for imposing a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment last March.

The case related to a campaign speech that Gandhi delivered in 2019, when he asked why “all thieves have Modi as [their] common surname.” His sentence was put on hold and he was granted bail. However, he lost his seat in parliament as politicians who receive jail terms of two years or more are automatically disqualified. Gandhi was also barred from running for election for eight years.


Earlier appeals to lower courts and the high court in Modi’s home state of Gujarat were all rejected, forcing the Congress leader to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The decision reached by a three-member bench on Friday comes as a major relief to the recently formed 26-member opposition bloc INDIA, which is gearing up to take on the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance in the next year’s parliamentary polls.  

No reason has been given by the trial judge for imposing maximum sentence, the order of conviction needs to be stayed pending final adjudication,” the judges said. The apex court noted, however, that Gandhi’s remark had not been “in good taste,” and that a person in public life was expected to “exercise restraint and caution” while making public speeches. 

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Gandhi stood over the remark in his Supreme Court affidavit, refusing to tender an apology. He pleaded for a stay on his conviction and asserted that he was not guilty.

“The petitioner maintains and has always maintained that he is not guilty of offense and that the conviction is unsustainable and if he had to apologize and compound the offense, he would have done it much earlier,” the affidavit read.

Justice Gavai took into account that Gandhi’s constituency of Wayanad in Kerala was currently unrepresented due to the conviction and the electorate’s rights were being affected. He also sought an explanation from the trial court judge for imposing the maximum sentence of two years in the case.

August 04, 2023 at 06:12PM


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