Following his conviction and sentencing, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was disqualified as a Member of Parliament on Friday.
The Lok Sabha Secretariat in its notification said that Rahul stands disqualified from March 23, the date he was convicted and sentenced.
While there are political implications, there are also legal arguments and precedents involved in the disqualification of Rahul. The foremost political implication is the future of the Congress party as the face of the party's first family is now no longer an MP and out of electoral politics for the near future.
Here we explain what the Lok Sabha Secretariat order said, what's the law around lawmakers' disqualification, and whether Rahul will not contest 2024 polls.
What does the Lok Sabha order say?
As per the Lok Sabha Secretariat notification, Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified under the Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which is enabled by Article 102 (1) (e) of the Constitution of India.
Section 8 of the Representation of People Act, 1951 says a lawmaker sentenced to not less than two years upon conviction will be disqualified.
And it’s done. Lok Sabha secretariat notifies Rahul Gandhi disqualification from House. Note the date — disqualified from March 23, 2023 (not March 24). EC can now technically hold the bypoll to Wayanad seat pic.twitter.com/FNrtR6gC6H— Bharti Jain (@bhartijainTOI) March 24, 2023
"Consequent upon his conviction by the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Surat in CC/18712/2019, Shri Rahul Gandhi, Member of Lok Sabha representing the Wayanad Parliamentary Constituency of Kerala stands disqualified from the membership of Lok Sabha from the date of his conviction ie. 23 March, 2023," says the Lok Sabha Secretariant notification.
What's the law on disqualification?
Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified under Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Such a disqualification is enabled by Article 102 (1) (e) of the Constitution of India, which says a lawmaker can be disqualified under any law enacted by the Parliament.
The Representation of the People Act, 1951 further says the disqualified lawmaker stands disqualified even after their release from the jail.
"A person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years other than any offence referred to in sub-section (1) or sub-section (2) shall be disqualified from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release," says Section 8 (3) of Representation of People Act, 1951, making Rahul ineligible for 2024 general elections if he is unable to get the conviction revoked by the higher courts.
Rahul was convicted under Sections 499 and 500 for defamation of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Section 500 of the IPC extends imprisonment of up to two years, fine, or both, as punishment for defamation.
Therefore, the moment Rahul was sentenced to two years in jail, he was certain to be disqualified as an MP, says Vinod Shankar Mishra, Professor, Faculty of Law, Banaras Hindu University (BHU). He adds that this is why the Lok Sabha Secretariat notification mentions March 23rd as the date from which the disqualification is effective and not 24th when the notification was actually issued.
Is Rahul Gandhi out of electoral politics now?
As per the law, Rahul Gandhi is now out of electoral politics for the next eight years.
Section 8 (3) of Representation of People Act, 1951 says any lawmaker sentenced to at least two years in jail remains disqualified for six years upon their release. This means that Rahul's disqualification will continue till 2031, as the six-year period will start in 2025 when his two-year sentence ends.
The moment Rahul was convicted under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sentenced to two years of imprisonment, he was certain to be disqualified as an MP, says Vinod Shankar Mishra, Professor, Faculty of Law, Banaras Hindu University (BHU). He adds that this is why the Lok Sabha Secretariat notification mentions March 23rd as the date from which the disqualification was effective and not the 24th when the notification was actually issued.
However, Rahul will almost certainly approach the higher courts against his conviction and sentencing, but, as of now, he is out of electoral politics for the next eight years as the law is very clear on this, says Mishra.
There was initial confusion over the disqualification that Rahul would face. While some said it would be immediate, others said it would not be so. Mishra explains that after the Supreme Court verdict in Lily Thomas Vs Union of India and Ors (2013), the disqualification would have been immediate as the judgement ruled section 8 (4) of the Representation of People Act, 1951, as unconstitutional.
Prior to the 2013 judgement, Section 8 (4) of the Representation of People Act, 1951, gave relaxation to MPs and MLAs facing disqualification. It said that the disqualification would not take place for three months from the date of conviction, and the disqualification would further stay suspended until a petition or revision application for the conviction is decided upon by the higher courts.
Mishra says, "The Supreme Court judgement in the Lilly Thomas case and other cases address the issues of criminalisation of politics. The immediate disqualification upon conviction is part of broader electoral reforms with an eye on removing corrupt practices, such as the requirement of disclosing criminal cases by candidates."
Speaking on Rahul's case, Mishra says, "The law is very clear. If the sentence is not revoked by the higher courts, then the disqualification would remain in place. Moreover, while the court gave 30 days time to appeal the verdict and granted bail, if the higher courts don't extend any relief, then prison time is also expected.
"As far as defamation case is considered, this is different from individual defamation as the comments concerned an entire community. The Constitution balances free speech with reasonable restrictions, and defamation is held as a valid, reasonable restriction under Article 19 (2) of Constitution. It may be mentioned that the Supreme Court in Lok Prahari vs Union of India (2018) had held that upon a stay of a conviction under Section 389 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), the disqualification under section 8 of Representation of the People Act,1951 would not operate."