Congress's Rahul Gandhi's conviction in a defamation case for his comment against Prime Minister Narendra Modi has thrown up a big question mark over his fate in the Lok Sabha. It has given ammunition to the BJP, which has been batting for his removal for over two months, and the party is claiming that it is automatic under a Supreme Court judgment. Top sources in the Congress told NDTV on condition of anonymity that Mr Gandhi stands to be disqualified and will not be attending parliament for a while, at least till he challenges the verdict.
Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, says the moment a member of parliament is convicted of any offence and sentenced for at least two years, she or he attracts disqualification. A 2013 verdict from the Supreme Court in the Lily Thomas versus Union of India case, held 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".
Under the circumstances, the Lok Sabha Secretariat can disqualify Rahul Gandhi on basis of the Surat court order and declare his Wayanad constituency vacant, legal experts said..
Lok Sabha officers dealing with disqualification procedures, however, told NDTV on condition of anonymity that there is "no rule book as such". "Show me your face and I will show you the rule book," one of them emphatically said.
In cases like Rahul Gandhi's conviction, they said the usual practice is to wait till the 30-day period is over to take a call.
The picture, though, can change if the Surat Court verdict is overturned or put on hold by Mr Gandhi's appeal in a higher court.
Recently, the Law Ministry recommended the reinstatement of Lakshadweep's NCP MP PP Mohammed Faizal after his conviction in an attempt to murder case was put on hold by the Kerala High Court.
The MP was initially convicted by a court in Lakshadweep in January. But a week later, the Kerala High Court had suspended the conviction and said his disqualification as a Lok Sabha member will no longer be valid.
The Election Commission, meanwhile, had announced by-polls in the constitution of Mr Faizal, who belongs to Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party. The MP challenged the decision in Supreme Court, following which the court asked for a cancellation of the Commission's order.
Mr Gandhi was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison today in a four-year-old criminal defamation case over his remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surname. Mr Gandhi had said, "How come all thieves have the common surname Modi?" after which the case was filed by BJP MLA and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi in Gujarat.
He was granted bail and given 30 days to file an appeal.