Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear on July 21 the appeal filed by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi challenging Gujarat High Court order that refused to put on hold his conviction and a two-year jail term in a criminal defamation case.
A bench of the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI), Dr Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chadrachud, agreed to hear it on Friday, July 21.
Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, senior lawyer appearing for Rahul, mentioned the matter before the CJI bench, seeking hearing of the matter, and to this, the Apex Court agreed to hear his appeal on Friday, July 21.
Congress leader and disqualified Lok Sabha Member of Parliament (MP) Rahul Gandhi on July 15 knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court, challenging Gujarat High Court order dismissing his plea for stay of his conviction in the criminal defamation case over ‘Modi surname’ remark.
Rahul had moved the Top Court, seeking a stay on Gujarat High Court verdict dismissing his appeal to stay his conviction in the criminal defamation case over ‘Modi surname.’
Gujarat High Court’s single judge, Justice Hemant M Prachchhak, which had reserved the judgement on May 2, pronounced the verdict on July 7.
Justice Prachchhak, while pronouncing the verdict, said on July 7 that there were at least 10 criminal cases pending against Rahul Gandhi). Even after the present case, some more cases have also been filed against him. One such is filed by the grandson of Veer Savarkar. In any case, conviction would not result in any injustice. The conviction is just and proper. There is no need to interfere with the order. Therefore, the application (filed by) is dismissed.
The Gujarat HC had passed the verdict after hearing in detail the arguments and submissions from Rahul, and the complainant, Purnesh Modi.
Rahul’s lawyer, senior advocate Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, had questioned the Gujarat HC in the hearing about the locus of the complainant, Purnesh Modi in filing the complaint in the first place.
“My case is that this appeal must succeed because the law doesn’t permit such complaints. Not anyone from the 13 crore people (with Modi’s surname) can come and file a complaint except the ones named in the speech. It is not even their case that I named Mr. Purnesh Modi,” Dr Singhvi said.
He said that if the Election Commission declares bye-elections, then Gandhi would stand to lose his seat.
“What if the Election Commission declares dates for bye-elections? The Election Commission is not bound by anyone of us. It isn’t bothered if I am arguing here or not. It will declare dates within 3 months or so. Then, even this court won’t do anything, and I will lose my seat,” he submitted.
Dr Singhvi said that for an MP, such disqualification is a matter of big significance.
“Can there be something more irreversible than a disqualification that robs you of your status of being a parliamentarian or an MP? I have already missed certain parts of the last session. I have missed meetings of Parliamentary Committees, of which, he is part of,” he said, and pleaded for a stay on his conviction.
Dr Singhvi also underlined that speeches made during the election campaign should be treated with greater latitude.
On the other hand, senior Advocate Nirupam Nanavati, appearing for the complainant, Purnesh Modi, said that Gandhi was adopting double standards.
While he was saying outside court that he would not back down, his stand inside court was in contradiction to what Nanavati had said.
“In public, he says, I will speak, but in court, he has changed his stand. If you are a motormouth, you keep speaking. You are well within your right that you don’t want to apologise. You are right in saying you won’t apologise or say sorry. But then don’t hue and cry over the consequences. Don’t cry here in the courtroom like a crying baby, saying my career is at stake etc,” Nanavati had added.
Nanavati had further made it clear that the Court must consider the seriousness of the offence and its impact on the victim and society at large. He underlined that the Parliament, and not the Court or the victim, disqualified Gandhi based on a law made by the Parliament, and Gandhi could not argue that he is suffering an irreversible loss.
“We have to maintain the sanctity and dignity of the highest institution of our country. If the law bars an individual from being a member of Parliament, on his conviction, then they cannot argue against it,” he had said.
“I have not committed any serious offence against society; no law & order situation due to my speech,” Rahul Gandhi had told the Gujarat HC seeking stay on his conviction.
52-year-old Congress leader and disqualified Congress MP of Lok Sabha, Rahul Gandhi, had pleaded to the Gujarat High Court for a stay on his conviction by a Magistrate court in a 2019 criminal defamation case for his Modi surname comment.
Dr Singhvi had told the Gujarat HC that the offence is neither of serious nature nor of moral turpitude, which are two tests for denying to suspend conviction.
Dr Singhvi had said that my case isn’t a serious offence, cognizable, or non-bailable. “My offence isn’t against the society. There has been no law and order situation due to my speech. All these grounds are best for a court to exercise its powers under relevant section to stay my conviction,” Dr Singhvi had told the court.
“Please consider the fact, if relief isn’t granted my client will lose eight years of his career,” Dr Singhvi had said.
“Nobody can suggest that my case falls in moral turpitude or serious category. In fact, my case is a bailable one and it is not against the society at large,” Dr Singhvi had told the Gujarat High Court Judge, Justice Prachchhak.
Dr Sighvi had said that the court has been harsh and handed down the maximum punishment for the first time to the alleged offender (Rahul). Had there been even a day less sentence, disqualification would not have come. So please consider all these.
“There is no identifiable class to at all maintain a complaint. So maintainability of the complaint (Purnesh Modi) itself is questionable. Law says only a person with a locus can complaint and that locus cannot be eliminated by saying that anyone from a non-identifiable class can file a complaint,” Dr Singhvi said.
Seeking stay of Rahul’s conviction, Dr Singhvi had said that none of the 3 persons that I named have sued me but someone from the so-called 13 crore group, has filed a complaint. “How is that maintainable at all,” he questioned.
Dr Singhvi had said that my client would have said that ‘Mr Purnesh Modi…. etc’ only then the complaint would have been maintainable. But here, he has named Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, which even the Sessions Court in its order has noted that my client defamed PM Modi. So, law mandates PM Modi to file a complaint and not anyone from the so-called 13 crore community.
Dr Singhvi had said that the Magistrate Court has relied upon the order passed by the Supreme Court admonishing my client to be careful in future, for his statements in the Rafael Deal case. But, surprisingly, the speech in the instant case was made in April 2019 and the SC proceedings was in November 2019. How came that possible?
This mistake is probably, because I was handed down maximum punishment within 10 minutes of conviction. “This has shaken my confidence milords,” he said.
Dr Singhvi had said that my client represented a constituency but suppose he misses the same due to this conviction, his duty towards the people. What will happen to that? Today the consequence I am facing is that I have missed the previous session and might also miss the second session. “They (The people of that constituency) are deprived of their representation,” he said.
This is a case where clearly there is a lack of prima facie case. In my career, I haven’t seen conviction in criminal and mostly if convicted it is five to eight months. So please consider the fact that for a first time offender in a non-cognizable and bailable case, I am seeking the relief, he said.
Public Prosecutor Mitesh Amin, opposed the arguments of Dr Singhvi, and had said that the law provides for a maximum of 2 years of punishment that can be awarded in such a case.
“The offence may be non-cognizable, bailable but these arguments pale into insignificance once the conviction is ordered. This ground has no value in plea-seeking stay on conviction. The legislature allows a maximum sentence of two years and the Magistrate has found it to be a fit case for imposing the maximum punishment,” Amin had told the Judge.