Rahul Gandhi set to return to parliament as top court suspends conviction

Supporters of India’s main opposition Congress party celebrate after the Supreme Court suspended party leader Rahul Gandhi’s defamation conviction, allowing him to return to parliament and contest national elections due next year, in New Delhi, India, August 4, 2023. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India’s top court suspended opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi’s defamation conviction on Friday, allowing him to return to parliament and contest national elections due next year.

Gandhi was convicted in March in a case brought by a lawmaker from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the western state of Gujarat over comments he made in 2019 deemed insulting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others with the same name, including the lawmaker.

“How come all thieves have the name Modi?” Gandhi had asked in an election campaign speech, referring to two fugitive businessmen, both surnamed Modi.

Gandhi, 53, from a dynasty that has given India three prime ministers, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment but the jail term was put on hold and he was granted bail.

He also lost his parliamentary seat following the conviction, since lawmakers sentenced to jail terms of two years or more are automatically disqualified.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, the lower house of parliament should now formally reinstate Gandhi.

Lower courts and the high court in Gujarat, where the BJP holds power, had rejected appeals by Gandhi to suspend the conviction, prompting the appeal to the Supreme Court.

Besides seeking suspension of the conviction, Gandhi has also sought to overturn it. That challenge has yet to be heard by the lower court in Gujarat.

“Come what may, my duty remains the same. Protect the idea of India,” Gandhi said in a post on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, in his first comments since the court ruling.

“If not today then tomorrow, if not tomorrow then the next day, truth prevails. But whatever happens, my path is clear,” he later told reporters at a party news conference. But he did not take questions.

Supreme Court judge Justice B.R. Gavai said the lower court had not given any reasons for handing down the maximum sentence of two years’ jail which led to his disqualification from parliament.

While Gandhi’s comments about Modi were “not in good taste”, the conviction not only punished Gandhi but also voters who had elected him to represent them, said Gavai, who headed a bench of three judges which suspended the conviction.



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