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SC Stays Conviction of Rahul Gandhi in Defamation Case but Warns Him Against Distasteful Remarks

The Supreme Court on Friday observed that the alleged remarks made by Rahul Gandhi are “not in good taste”, while it stayed his conviction in the ‘Modi surname’ defamation case, paving way for restoration of his Lok Sabha membership.

“No doubt that the alleged utterances by the appellant are not in good taste. A person in public life is expected to exercise a degree of restraint while making public speeches,” said a bench comprising of Justices B.R. Gavai, P.S. Narasimha, and Prashant Kumar Mishra in its order.

The bench said that the former Congress president “ought to have been more careful while making the public speech” as the trial court had given no other reason for imposing the maximum sentence of two years in the defamation case except for the admonition awarded by the Supreme Court in contempt proceedings for wrongly linking its Rafale case order to his “chowkidar chor hai” phrase against PM Narendra Modi.

May be, had the judgment of the Apex Court in the contempt proceedings come prior to the speech made by Rahul Gandhi, he would have been more careful and exercised a degree of restraint while making the alleged defamatory remarks, the Supreme Court said.

The top court pointed out that when the offence of defamation is non-cognisable, bailable and compoundable, “the least that the Trial Judge was expected to do was to give some reasons as to why, in the facts and circumstances, he found it necessary to impose the maximum sentence of two years”.

It reasoned that had Gandhi been awarded a sentence of 1 year, 11 months and 29 days, he would have been not disqualified as a Member of Parliament.

While ordering suspension of conviction pending appeal, it noted that ramifications of disqualification are wide-ranging.

“They not only affect the right of the appellant to continue in public life but also affect the right of the electorate, who have elected him, to represent their constituency,” the Supreme Court said.

During the course of hearing, senior advocate Mahesh Jethamalani, appearing for the complainant BJP MLA in the defamation case, submitted: “Constituency will elect a new member in September (after expiry of six months). It is a right of the constituency to elect someone who is not a convict. Not a person who makes rash statements and has broken the law.”

On the other hand, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Gandhi, termed the conviction as “strange”.

“Everybody aggrieved is a BJP office bearer or a karyakarta (party worker),” he said.

Jethamalani said that Gandhi’s intention was to defame every person with the surname ‘Modi’ just because it is the same as that of a Prime Minister.

“You (Rahul Gandhi) have defamed an entire class out of malice,” he said.

The Supreme Court was hearing the plea filed by former Congress president against the Gujarat High Court’s verdict refusing a stay on his conviction in the ‘Modi surname’ defamation case.

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