Gujarat High Court judge Justice Gita Gopi recused herself on Wednesday from hearing a plea filed by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. The appeal sought a stay on his conviction by a magistrate court in a criminal defamation case against him.
Gandhi's appeal was mentioned before single judge Justice Gopi, who responded with "not before me" and advised the advocate to approach the acting Chief Justice of the High Court, who can assign another bench for hearing the appeal. Earlier, a sessions court in Surat had dismissed Gandhi's plea seeking suspension of his conviction by the magistrate court on April 20. In a detailed order, the sessions court held that Gandhi's disqualification would not amount to an irreversible loss to him and refused to grant interim relief.
Background of the case
The now-disqualified parliamentarian from Wayanad, Kerala, was convicted by a magistrate court on March 23 for his controversial remark "All thieves have Modi surname." Gandhi made the statement during a political campaign in 2019 in Kolar, Karnataka, linking Prime Minister Narendra Modi with fugitives like Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi. He had said, "Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi. How come all the thieves have 'Modi' as a common surname?"
Purnesh Modi, a former BJP Member of the Legislative Assembly, took exception to this, claiming that Gandhi humiliated and defamed persons with the Modi surname. The magistrate court in Surat accepted Purnesh Modi's contention that Gandhi intentionally insulted people with the 'Modi' surname.
In his 168-page judgment, Judge Hadirash Varma stated that since Gandhi is a Member of Parliament, his words have a greater impact, and he should have exercised restraint. "The accused had taken the reference of the surname of the current Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, to satisfy his political greed and insulted and defamed 13 crore people living in the whole of India having the surname 'Modi'," the judge held.
Gandhi was disqualified last month after receiving a two-year jail term, the maximum possible in a criminal defamation case and enough to bar him from parliament. The law mandates that if a MP is convicted for any offence for two years, their seat will be vacant. One can stay on as a MP only if the conviction is suspended.
In his appeal to the Surat court earlier this month, Gandhi argued that the trial court treated him harshly, overwhelmingly influenced by his status as a MP. However, Judge Robin Mongera disagreed, stating that Gandhi had "failed to demonstrate that by not staying the conviction and denying an opportunity to contest the election, an irreversible and irrevocable damage will be caused to him."