Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, recently disqualified from the Parliament after being sentenced to two years in prison over a 2019 defamation case, will challenge his conviction and sentencing in the Surat sessions court tomorrow, sources said. The former Congress president has, in his plea, asked the sessions court to set aside the Magistrate order convicting him in the defamation case. He also asked for an interim stay on the conviction till the matter is disposed of.
Rahul Gandhi was granted bail and his sentence was suspended for 30 days to let him appeal the decision. The next day, his suspension was formalised by the Lok Sabha secretariat -- a speed irate opposition leaders have compared to a "bullet train".
Unless Mr Gandhi's conviction is put on hold by a higher court, the Election Commission will announce a special election for the Wayanad Lok Sabha seat. He will also not be allowed to contest elections for the next eight years.
The defamation case was filed against Mr Gandhi by BJP MLA and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi for saying "How come all thieves have the common surname Modi?"
The former Lok Sabha MP from Wayanad made the remarks while addressing a rally in Karnataka ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, targetting PM Modi over his last name, which he shares with fugitive businessmen Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi.
Mr Gandhi's lawyer has argued the court proceedings were "flawed" from the beginning and also said that PM Modi, and not MLA Purnesh Modi, should have been the complainant in the case because the PM was the main target of Rahul Gandhi's speech.
Days after disqualification, Mr Gandhi was served a notice to vacate his official Delhi bungalow, as he was no longer entitled to it. Congress called the move a 'conspiracy' to 'silence' Rahul Gandhi as he was asking tough questions in the Parliament on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's alleged closeness with industrialist Gautam Adani, whose conglomerate has been accused of financial fraud and stocks manipulation by US-based short seller Hindenburg Research. The Adani Group has strongly refuted the allegations, calling Hindenburg's report a "calculated attack" on India.
The BJP has called the move lawful, and questioned if Mr Gandhi considered himself above the law. The ruling party has also slammed Mr Gandhi for his remark, terming it an intentional insult to the entire OBC community. It has launched a mega campaign, led by its OBC ministers, on Mr Gandhi's remark.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah dismissed the huge outcry, saying Rahul Gandhi was not the only politician who has lost membership of the legislature after being convicted by a court. He said Mr Gandhi should go to a higher court to fight his case. Instead, Mr Shah added, he has been trying to blame Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"He has not appealed to take stay on his conviction. What kind of arrogance is this? You want special privileges? You want to continue as an MP and will also not go before the court," he said.
The Congress has been accusing the BJP and Prime Minister Modi of assisting the business group in getting projects in its favour, a charge denied by the ruling party.
Rahul Gandhi's disqualification has brought together a fractured opposition, with even political adversaries joining forces with the grand old party to attack the BJP-ruled Centre for allegedly weaponising central investigative agencies, and vengeful action against Opposition leaders.
Experts have said that a two-year sentence in a criminal defamation case under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, under which Mr Gandhi was convicted, is extremely rare.
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