NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the conviction of Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case over his “Modi surname” remark and said that the trial court judge was expected to give reasons for imposing maximum punishment for a non-cognizable offence.

The Congress leader was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment by a trial court in Gujarat for his remark – “How come all thieves have Modi as the common surname” – made during an election rally in Karnataka’s Kolar in 2019. After the conviction, he was disqualified as a member of Parliament from Kerala’s Wayanad under the Representation of People Act.
A three-judge bench of Justices B R Gavai, P S Narasimha and Sanjay Kumar observed that the ramifications of the trial court’s order in the case are wide and said the “order of conviction needs to be stayed pending final adjudication.”

“If a constituency in Parliament goes unrepresented, is it not a relevant ground (to suspend conviction)? No whisper by the trial judge for the need to impose the maximum sentence. Not only the right of one individual is being affected, but the entire electorate of the constituency,” observed the judges.
The Supreme Court was hearing the plea filed by Rahul Gandhi against the Gujarat high court’s verdict refusing a stay on his conviction. The Gujarat high court had observed that granting a stay on his conviction would be an exception, and not a rule.
While the top court reversed the high court order, it had a word of caution for the Congress leader.
“There is no doubt that utterances are not in good taste, person in public life is expected to exercise caution while making public speeches.” the judges said.
Referring to its earlier order in a contempt case against Rahul, the apex court said while filing his affidavit in the contempt petition, he ought to have been more careful and exercised a degree of restraint in making such remarks which are alleged to be defamatory.
The top court wondered why no reason was given by the trial court judge for imposing maximum sentence in the case.
“Except the admonition by Supreme Court in a contempt case, no other reason has been granted for this (conviction) by trial judge. It is to be noted only on account of this maximum sentence imposed by trial judge, provisions of Representation of People Act have come into play,” the court said.
“Had sentence been a day lesser, provisions would not have been attracted, particularly when an offence is non cognizable, bailable and compoundable. The least the trial court judge was expected was give some reasons to impose maximum sentence. Though appellate court and high court have spent voluminous pages rejecting stay on conviction, these aspects are not considered in their orders,” the bench added.
“Though the learned appellate court and High Court have spent voluminous pages in denying stay on conviction, these aspects have not been gone into,” the order noted.
“We are of the considered view that the ramifications of the ruling are wide, and affect the rights of his constituency’s electorate. Considering the aforesaid and particularly that no reasons have been given by the trial judge for maximum sentence which has incurred disqualification, order of conviction needs to be stayed pendency of proceedings,” the top court ordered.
(With inputs from agencies)


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