The Sessions Court of Surat has today dismissed a plea filed by Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi seeking a stay on his conviction by a Magistrate in a criminal defamation case. The Court said that comparing persons having ‘Modi’ surname with thieves would have definitely caused mental agony.

Rahul Gandhi was convicted by the Magistrate of Surat Court on March 23 this year for uttering words against the surname ‘Modi’ during an election rally at Kolar in Karnataka in the year 2019.

Additional Sessions Judge Robin P. Mogera observed, “It is not disputed fact that the Appellant was the Member of Parliament and President of the second largest political party and looking to such stature of Appellant he should have been more careful with his words, which would have large impact on the mind of people. Any defamatory words coming from the mouth of Appellant are sufficient enough to cause mental agony to aggrieved person. In this case, by uttering defamatory words viz. comparing persons having surname 'Modi' with thieves would definitely have caused mental agony and harm the reputation of complainant, who is socially active and dealing in public.”

The Judge while considering the law with regard to the criteria of disqualification as enumerated in Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 held that the removal or disqualification as Member of Parliament cannot be termed as irreversible or irreparable loss or damage to Gandhi.

Senior Advocate R.S. Cheema appeared for the appellant i.e., Rahul Gandhi while Advocates Harshit S. Tolia and PP Nayan Sukhadwala appeared for the respondents.

Facts -

The appellant had preferred an application for staying his conviction imposed by the judgment passed by the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Surat Court. The court of CJM H H Varma had on March 23 convicted and sentenced him to two years in jail in a 2019 criminal defamation case filed against him over his "Modi surname" remarks.

The Congress leader was held guilty under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code and thereafter, he was disqualified from the Lok Sabha. A case was filed against Gandhi on a complaint by Bharatiya Janata Party MLA and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi for his alleged remarks "How come all thieves have Modi as the common surname?"

The Sessions Court after hearing the contentions of the counsel noted, “… it transpires that the Ld. Magistrate had after giving thoughtful consideration to the complaint, verification and documents produced therewith had issued the summons, which was never challenged by the Appellant at any stage and hence the objection taken by Appellant with regard to trial being vitiated due to lack of territorial jurisdiction cannot be accepted at this stage.”

The Court asserted that so far as imposing maximum punishment is concerned, the appellant was not an ordinary person and was a sitting MP, connected with public life, and hence, any word spoken by him would have a large impact on the minds of the common public.

“The alleged speech given by Appellant on 13/4/2019 was during election campaign. Moreover, high standard of morality is expected from a person like Appellant and the Ld. Trial Court had inflicted sentence, which was permissible in law. Further, it appears from record that all opportunities were accorded to Appellant for cross-examining the witnesses and hence I do not agree with the contentions of Ld. Senior Advocate Mr. Cheema about appellant being deprived of fair trial”, said the Court.

The Court further noted that in the case of Navjot Singh Sidhu v. State of Punjab & Anr. (2007) 2 SCC 574, the incident was not correlated with the public life of the appellant, and the Apex Court appreciated the fact that he adopted a moral path by resigning from his seat. Hence, the Court said that such facts are totally different from the ones in the present case.

“… Ld. Counsel for the appellant has failed in demonstrating that by not staying the conviction and denying an opportunity to contest the election on account of disqualification … The Hon'ble Apex Court has held in numbers of pronouncements that the powers accorded under section 389(1) of CrPC to suspend/stay the conviction is required to be exercised with caution and circumspection and if such power is exercised in a casual and mechanical manner, the same would have serious impact on the public perception on the justice delivery systems and such order will shake public confidence in judiciary”, concluded the Court.

The Court, therefore, held that the appellant did not make any case to suspend his conviction recorded against him. Accordingly, the Sessions Court dismissed the plea for staying conviction.

Cause Title- Rahul Gandhi v. Purnesh Modi & Anr.

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