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Rahul Gandhi Defamation Case Timeline: The Long Road From 'Modi Surname' Remarks To Supreme Court's Stay On Conviction

The saga began in 2019 when Rahul Gandhi at an election rally in Karnataka questioned why all the thieves have 'Modi' surname. A criminal defamation case followed.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi
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The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the conviction of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in the 'Modi surname' defamation case. 

The Supreme Court said the district court provided no reasoning for sentencing Rahul to two years, which is the maximum sentence one can be handed for the offence Rahul was convicted for. 

The case is rooted in Rahul's comment at a rally in Karnataka in 2019 in which he questioned why all the thieves have 'Modi' surname. He was targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi over corruption allegations. 

A defamation case was then filed against Rahul which led to conviction earlier this year. Following the conviction and sentencing to two years, Rahul was disqualified as a Member of Parliament in accordance with the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The disqualification put his future in electoral politics in jeopardy. 

The stay on the conviction, and the possibility of restoration of his status as an MP, therefore, comes as a shot in the arm for Rahul and Congress. 

Here we explain what the Supreme Court on Friday and show the timeline of the 'Modi surname' defamation case. 

What did the Supreme Court say?

The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the conviction of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in the 'Modi surname' defamation case.

The Supreme Court said no reason was given by the trial court judge while convicting Gandhi except that he was admonished by the apex court in a contempt case, reported PTI. 

The Supreme Court said in so far as conviction is concerned, it has considered that the sentence for an offence punishable under section 499 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is maximum two years imprisonment or fine or both, and the trial judge has awarded the maximum sentence of two years, reported PTI. Notably, it is the maximum punishment handed to Rahul that disqualified him as an MP as only a lawmaker convicted for a minimum of two years is disqualified under the Representation of the People Act, 1951. 

"Had sentence been a day lesser, provisions would not have been attracted, particularly when an offence is non cognisable, bailable and compoundable. The least the trial court judge was expected was give some reasons to impose maximum sentence. Though appellate court and high court have spent voluminous pages rejecting stay on conviction, these aspects are not considered in their orders," said the Supreme Court, as per PTI. 

The Supreme Court, however, also said that there is "no doubt the utterances [of Rahul] were not in good taste and a person in public life is expected to exercise caution while making public speeches".

Rahul Gandhi defamation case timeline

2019

April 13: At an election rally at Kolar, Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi said, "Why do all the thieves, be it Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi or Narendra Modi, have Modi as the common surname?"

Rahul made the comment at a time when the Opposition was targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi over alleged corruption cases featuring the likes of Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi. For years, the Opposition and Rahul in particular have accused PM Modi of corrupt practices and unfair handing of tenders to industrialists like Gautam  Adani and Mukesh Ambani. 

April 15: BJP MLA (Surat) Purnesh Modi files criminal defamation case against Rahul Gandhi over 'Modi surname' remarks in Karnataka. 

July 07: Rahul Gandhi appears in a Surat court for the first time. 

2023: 

After around four years of legal proceedings, the Surat court pronounced its judgement in the Rahul Gandhi defamation case in March 2023.

March 23: The Surat court convicted Rahul in the defamation case and sentences him to two-years of imprisonment. He is currently out on bail. 

The two-years imprisonment is the maximum punishment for the offence Rahul was convicted for. 

March 24: The Lok Sabha Secretariat notified the suspension of Rahul Gandhi as MP under the provisions of 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 from the house. 

"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.

The future of Rahul in electoral politics was further made uncertain as 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.

April 2: Rahul challenges the trial court's order in a sessions court in Surat, which is still pending, reports PTI.

The challenge was accompanied along with an application for a stay to the conviction.  

April 20: The Surat sessions court granted Rahul him bail but refused to stay conviction.  

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April 25: Rahul Gandhi files revision appeal before Gujarat High Court against lower court's order in the 'Modi surname' defamation case. 

July 7  :  Gujarat High Court dismissed Rahul Gandhi’s petition for a stay on his conviction.

July 15: Rahul Gandhi moves to the Supreme Court against the Gujarat High Court's order. He argued that if the order is not stayed, the verdict would throttle free speech, reports PTI.

July 21 : The Supreme Court issued notice to Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi and the state government on Rahul Gandhi's appeal challenging the high court verdict that declined to stay his conviction. 

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August 4: The Supreme Court stayed Rahul Gandhi's conviction. 

The Supreme Court's stay on the conviction has potentially paved the way for the restoration of Rahul's status as an MP. 

"The Lok Sabha speaker can now revive his membership on his own or Gandhi, armed with the apex court order, seek restoration of his status as an MP," reported PTI.

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