NEW DELHI: In a major relief to the top Indian politician from the jury, Supreme Court suspended the two years sentence of opposition leader Rahul Gandhi for defaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a decision which could clear the way for the former legislator to stage a comeback in the country’s parliament.
“No reason has been given by [the] trial judge for imposing the maximum sentence,” Justice B R Gavai said in his ruling. “The order of conviction needs to be stayed pending final adjudication.”
Rahul Gandhi was sentenced to two years’ for comments he made in 2019 that a court ruled, insulting to Modi and those sharing his last name.
Anyone sentenced to a custodial term of two years or more is ineligible to sit in India’s parliament, and the initial verdict forced Gandhi’s expulsion from the body in March.
His conviction stemmed from a remark made during the 2019 election campaign when he asked why “all thieves have Modi as [their] common surname”, in a jibe at Modi.
In his 731-page submission to the Supreme Court, Gandhi said his speech was made “in the course of democratic political activity”.
His sentence was “gravely detrimental to democratic free speech”, added the document, which his party provided to AFP.
Modi´s government has been widely accused of using the defamation law to silence critics.
Last month Gandhi submitted his plea to put a halt on his conviction however, it was rejected by the Gujarat High Court.
The conviction is “just, proper and legal”, the court ruled, in a blow to the Congress leader quashing, for now, his hope of returning to parliament and contesting national elections due next year.
“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, the scion of 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 given bail.
Gandhi also lost his parliamentary seat following the conviction since lawmakers sentenced to jail terms of two years or more are automatically disqualified.
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