Convicted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is as good as disqualified as a Member of Parliament.
This comes from no less than former Union law minister Kapil Sibal who said the Gandhi scion stands automatically disqualified with his two-year jail sentence.
Gandhi was convicted by a court in Surat over his remark on prime minister Narendra Modi.
He has got the bail and has been given 30 day’s time to file and appeal.
Sibal, a former member of the Congress, was emphatic that Mr Gandhi stands disqualified as an MP in Lok Sabha under the law.
“If it (the court) only suspends the sentence that’s not enough. There has to be a suspension or stay of conviction. He (Rahul Gandhi) can stay on as a member of parliament only if there is a stay on the conviction,” Sibal told NDTV.
If the verdict is not cancelled by any higher court, Rahul Gandhi will also not be allowed to contest elections for the next eight years.
The law states that if one is convicted in any offence for two years then the seat will be vacant, he explained. “The law requires it and naturally the Speaker will move in accordance with the law,” he added.
In the Lily Thomas versus Union of India case in 2013, the Supreme Court had ruled that “any MP, MLA or MLC who is convicted of a crime and given a minimum of 2 years’ jail loses membership of the House with immediate effect”.
The court had scrapped the Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, which allowed elected representatives three months to appeal against their conviction, calling it “unconstitutional”.
In its judgment, the Surat court had said although Mr Gandhi was “warned and advised by the Supreme Court”, there is no evidence of any change in his conduct.
“The accused is an MP who addresses the people in the capacity of an MP and impacts a large part of the society and therefore the effects of this crime is much comprehensive in this case. Giving him a reduced sentence would set a bad precedent and send a negative message in society. Keeping that mind the accused is being given the sentence of 2 years of imprisonment,” the court had said.
Targetting PM Modi over his last name – which he shares with fugitive businessmen Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi — Rahul Gandhi had apparently said, “How come all thieves have the common surname Modi?” Shortly after, a police case was filed against him by BJP MLA and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi.
Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, says that the moment a member of parliament is convicted of any offence and sentenced for at least two years, she or he attracts disqualification.
According to experts, based on the Surat court order, the Lok Sabha Secretariat can disqualify Rahul Gandhi and declare his constituency vacant. The Election Commission will then announce a special election for the seat.
“By the operation of the law, he stands disqualified, but the decision has to be communicated to the Speaker. But as of today, he stands disqualified,” noted lawyer and BJP MP Mahesh Jethmalani told NDTV.
According to Gandhi’s team, the Congress leader plans to challenge the verdict in a sessions court.
Meanwhile, the Congress has called a conferral of opposition leaders today.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said a meeting at Congress chief M Kharge’s residence lasted around two hours and it was decided that the Party chief would hold a meeting with all Pradesh Congress chiefs and Congress Legislature Party leaders in the evening and plan agitations in states.
Around 11:30 am or noon today, all opposition parties will march from Parliament to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, said the Congress. The party said it has sought time from President Droupadi Murmu to present their case.
Beginning Monday, the principal opposition party will also hold protests in Delhi and in other states over the matter.