Context: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment in a criminal defamation case over his remark on the Modi surname. He made this remark during the Lok Sabha election polls in 2019. The court suspended the sentence for 30 days so Rahul Gandhi could appeal to higher courts. In response to it, supporters of Congress stage protests all over India.
Legality: Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC deal with defamation.
About defamation: It is an act of harming the reputation of a person. In Subramanian Swamy v. UOI 2016, the court upheld the validity of Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC on the ground that:
- Dignity includes reputation, so these sections protect dignity.
- Even in this digital age, reputation should be protected.
In Shreya Singhal v. UOI 2015, the court partly upheld and partly struck down the 2009 Amendment to the Information Technology Act.
- Because digital media has a greater potential for harm, the punishment should be increased from two to three years in prison.
- A new offence regarding information that annoys, insults, or creates ill will was struck down because these words are vague and show excessiveness, not reasonableness.
He is also an MP from the Wayanad constituency in Kerala, so he has been disqualified from the Lok Sabha after a court sentenced him in a criminal defamation case. He is disqualified under Article 102 (1) (e) of the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act 1951. According to Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act 1951, which guides the disqualification of a legislator,
Constitutional provisions: Article 102 deals with the disqualification of MPs. Clause (1) of this article tells the reasons why an MP can be disqualified, which include:
(a) If holds any office for profit under the Government of India or any state government
(b) if he is of unsound mind and stands so declared by a competent court.
(c) if he is an undischarged insolvent
(d) if he is no longer a citizen of India.
(e) if he is so disqualified by or under any law made by Parliament.
In the case of Rahul Gandhi, Article 102(1)(e) applies, and the law under which he has been disqualified is the Representation of the People Act 1951.
The Representation of People Act of 1951 deals with the elections of parliament and houses of the state legislature, the qualifications and disqualifications for membership in those houses, corrupt practices, and other offences in connection with such elections.
Section 8(1) of the RPA 1951 deals with specific offences like promoting enmity between two groups, bribery, etc. Defamation does not fall on this list.
Section 8(2) also lists offences that deal with adulteration of food or drugs or hoarding, which require a conviction and sentence of at least 6 months for an offence under any provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act.
Section 8 (3): A person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than 2 years shall be disqualified from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of 6 years since his release. Under this provision, Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified.
Section 8 (4): Disqualification takes effect only after 3 months have elapsed from the date of conviction; during this period, the concerned person could file an appeal against the sentence before the high court, but in the Lily Thomas vs. UOI 2013 case, the court struck down Section 8 (4) of the RPA as unconstitutional. So that’s why it has allowed the Lok Sabha secretariat to immediately disqualify Rahul Gandhi.