Supreme Court stays conviction of Gandhi; says person in public life expected to exercise caution in speeches

4 August, 2023 | Gautam Thakral

Supreme Court stays conviction of Gandhi; says person in public life expected to exercise caution in speeches Top News

Supreme Court stays conviction of Gandhi; says person in public life expected to exercise caution in speeches

The Supreme Court delayed Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s conviction in the criminal defamation case over the ‘Modi surname’ statement on Friday, noting that anybody in public life is obliged to take prudence when making public speeches.

Rahul Gandhi was sentenced to two years in prison, effectively disqualifying him from running for office under the Representation of the People Act. Following his conviction in the case, Rahul was proclaimed disqualified as MP from Kerala’s Wayanad on March 24 by the Lok Sabha Secretariat.

According to a bench led by Justice BR Gavai, the trial court judge had no grounds for imposing the maximum punishment, and the “order of conviction needs to be stayed pending final adjudication.”While granting Rahul Gandhi relief, the Supreme Court stated that the trial court’s judgement had far-reaching consequences.

The bench stated that Gandhi’s right to continue in public life was jeopardised, as was the right of the voters who elected him. The bench also stated that Gandhi’s remarks were “not in good taste” and that “persons in public life are expected to exercise caution when making public speeches.”
The Supreme Court went on to say that Gandhi should have been more cautious.

“Trial judge has awarded maximum sentence of two years. Except for the admonition by Supreme Court, no other reason has been granted for this by the trial judge forwarding a maximum of two years of the sentence. It is to be noted only on account of this maximum sentence, provisions of the Representation of People Act have come into play. Had the sentence been a day lesser, provisions would not have been attracted,” the bench stated in its order.

When the offence is non-cognisable, bailable, or compoundable, the trial judge is expected to give reasons for imposing maximum sentence, it added.”Though the court has spent voluminous pages rejecting stay on conviction, these aspects are not considered in their orders,” the bench further said.
Rahul Gandhi 
The Supreme Court was hearing Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s appeal against the Gujarat High Court’s decision not to stay Gandhi’s conviction in the case.

Senior attorney Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Gandhi, informed the court that the case was non-cognisable, bailable, and compoundable and that the offence was not against society, such as kidnapping, rape, or murder. He questioned how this could be considered a moral turpitude crime. Gandhi is not a hardened criminal, and there have been numerous cases brought by BJP Karyakartas but no convictions, he claims.

He went on to say that Gandhi had previously skipped two sessions of Parliament.

Senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, who represented complainant, Purnesh Modi, said that Gandhi defamed the entire class by his remarks just because it matches that of the Prime Minister.
During the hearing, the bench stated that the trial court judge had not mentioned the necessity to sentence Gandhi to the maximum penalty.

The bench inquired if the unrepresented constituency was a relevant issue. It was discovered that not only one individual’s right is being harmed, but the whole electorate of a Constituency.
Earlier, in an affidavit, Gandhi stated that he was not guilty of the ‘Modi surname’ comment issue, and asked the Supreme Court to postpone his conviction so that he may participate in the Loksabha’s ongoing sessions and subsequent sessions.

According to Gandhi’s affidavit, the complainant, Gujarat BJP MLA Purnesh Ishwarbhai Modi, used defamatory language such as ‘arrogant’ to characterise him in his reply before the Supreme Court simply because he has refused to apologise.

The complainant in Rahul Gandhi’s criminal defamation case, in which he was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison by a Surat court over the ‘Modi surname’ remark, told the Supreme Court that the Congress leader’s attitude reveals arrogant entitlement and that he does not deserve any relief in the form of a stay on his conviction.

Rahul Gandhi was arrogant rather than contrite about his words, and his demeanour reflected insensitivity to insulted people and disrespect for the law, he said to the Supreme Court.
Rahul Gandhi also asked the Supreme Court to halt the Gujarat High Court’s decision, which affirmed his conviction. He said that the High Court decision “has no parallel or precedent in the jurisprudence of defamation law.”

He argued that it was “not only curious but extremely significant, indeed sinister, that all previous cases, including the current one, were filed by members and office bearers of the ruling party.”
It was argued that the surname ‘Modi’ comprised diverse groups and sub-communities in different sections of the country, with no consistency or uniformity. The Modi surname came from a variety of castes.

According to the petition filed in the Supreme Court, the complainant, Gujarat BJP MLA Purnesh Ishwarbhai Modi, who just possesses a ‘Modi’ surname, did not establish that he was prejudiced or hurt in any specific or personal sense.

Rahul Gandhi’s plea said, “Unprecedentedly, in a case of criminal defamation, a maximum sentence of two years has been imposed. This itself is a rarest of rare occurrence.”

“Unprecedentedly, in a case of criminal defamation, a maximum sentence of two years has been imposed,” Gandhi’s plea stated. This is an extremely unusual event.”
On July 7, the High Court upheld the decision of a Gujarat Sessions Court, which had declined to stay a March 23 magisterial court ruling convicting Rahul Gandhi and handed down the highest sentence permitted for criminal defamation under the Indian Penal Code.

The High Court rejected Gandhi’s request, saying that he was seeking a stay of execution on “absolutely non-existent grounds,” and that a stay of execution is an exception, not the rule.
The magisterial court sentenced Gandhi in March for statements disparaging the ‘Modi’ surname made before of the 2019 national elections.

After the Magistrate’s Court convicted Rahul Gandhi, he petitioned the Sessions Court, which denied his request for a stay of execution on April 20. He then went to the Supreme Court.
Purnesh Modi, a Congress politician, was sentenced to two years in prison on March 23 under sections 499 and 500 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
In an April 2019 event in Karnataka’s Kolar, Rahul Gandhi questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying, “How come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?”

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