NEW DELHI: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, disqualified as MP from Wayanad, e-filed an appeal in the Supreme Court on Saturday challenging a Gujarat high court order refusing to stay a Surat trial court’s verdict sentencing him to two-year imprisonment in the Modi-surname defamation case.
The petition, yet to be numbered by the SC Registry, is likely to be mentioned for urgent hearing before a bench led by CJI D Y Chandrachud in the next few days. The urgency for Rahul is that, unless the SC stays the conviction and sentence, he will have to seek fresh bail from the SC during pendency of his appeal against conviction and also face the prospect of remaining disqualified to contest elections for eight years from the date of the Surat court’s order.
In his petition, Rahul said, “If the relief is not granted to the petitioner, then he will lose eight years of his career.” Under Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, a person convicted and sentenced to two years for any offence would remain disqualified to contest elections for the jail term and six years after serving the sentence.
The top Congress leader said the offence registered against him at the behest of one Purnesh Modi, whose lawyer P S Sudheer has filed a caveat in the SC to ensure that Rahul does not get any ex-parte stay on the HC decision, was neither serious in nature nor fell in the category of “moral turpitude” to warrant such severe sentence.
Questioning the locus standi of the complainant to file a defamation case against him, Rahul said when the allegedly offending or defamatory words were spoken during a political speech, it must be understood to have been directed at a political opponent and not against any class or community. “With regard to offending speech or sentence, there is no evidence in terms of the Evidence Act or the Information Technology Act that has been produced to justify the proceedings,” he said.
Rahul said he represented a Lok Sabha constituency and his conviction on “flimsy grounds” of defamation and imposition of maximum sentence of two years prevented the people of the constituency from having a voice in Parliament and participating in the democratic governance of the country. He said not staying the conviction and sentence would cause irreparable damage of non-representation of the people of Wayanad constituency for months.
Rahul sought to discredit the complainant’s claim that his speech had defamed people with the Modi surname. “First, an undefined amorphous group which, according to the complainant consists of 13 crore people, has been held to be defamed. The surname Modi in different parts of the country encompasses different communities and sub-communities, which usually have no commonality or uniformity at all,” his petition said.
The Congress leader said the three specific persons named in the speech, who alone could have possibly suffered prejudice, have not sued or complained. “Instead, the complainant simply has a ‘Modi’ surname from Gujarat who has neither shown nor been held to be prejudiced or damaged in any specific or personal sense,” the petition said.
“Thirdly, the complainant admitted that he comes from Modh Vanika Samaj. This term is not interchangeable with Modi and the Modi surname is present in various castes. The complainant produced no document or certificate in relation to his caste,” it added.
“Fourthly, this is totally contrary to the well established law of defamation which is that to constitute an association or collection of persons, there has to be an identifiable body as distinguished from the rest of the community. Fifthly, the most important ingredient of the offence, an ‘intention to defame’, has admittedly not been proved in the case on the basis of any evidence,” Rahul said.

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