By: Chandrashekar Bhat
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified as an MP after being convicted in a defamation case and sentenced to two years in jail.
The Representation of the People Act, 1951, the law that governs elections in India, mandates disqualification of any lawmaker who is “convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years”.
Gandhi, 52, was on Thursday (23) found guilty of defamation by a magistrate’s court in Gujarat for an election speech in 2019 when he referred to “thieves” having Modi as their surnames.
Gandhi faces the risk of not being able to contest national elections due in 2024 if his conviction is not suspended or overturned by a higher court prior to the general election.
The law also mandates that a convicted MP cannot contest elections for six years after the end of their jail sentence.
Gandhi represents the Wayanad constituency in Kerala.
The disqualification can be overturned and the MP reinstated to parliament if the conviction is stayed or overturned and a fresh election to the seat is yet to be conducted.
Gandhi was present in the Gujarat court which gave him bail immediately and suspended the sentence for a month, allowing him to appeal against it.
He can secure bail extensions during the appeal period, but cannot contest elections until the conviction is stayed or he is acquitted in the case.
“So while it appears from reports that Mr. Gandhi’s sentence has been suspended by the court that convicted him, he would have to soon obtain a stay on the conviction from an appellate court to save himself from disqualification,” Supreme Court lawyer Vikram Hegde said.
Gandhi, a senior functionary of the Congress party and who belongs to the Nehru-Gandhi political family, will appeal in a higher court, his party said.