Indian court rejects Rahul Gandhi’s plea to suspend defamation conviction

NEW DELHI – A high court in western India denied an appeal by opposition leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday to suspend his judgement in a defamation case, crumbling for now his wishes of coming back to Parliament and contesting national elections due in 2024. Mr Abhishek Singhvi, Gandhi’s lawyer and spokesperson for his Congress party, called the judgment “legally unfair” and said he would soon appeal in opposition to it in the Supreme Court, the last option.

Gandhi was sentenced in March in a case given by a Gujarat state lawmaker from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Mr Purnesh Modi, after comments Gandhi made in 2019 were considered to be ridiculing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other people surnamed Modi. “How come all thieves have the name Modi?” Gandhi had asked in an election campaign speech, mentioning to two fugitive businessmen, both surnamed Modi. Gandhi, 53, the successor of a dynasty that has provided India three prime ministers, was passed judgement to two years’ imprisonment, but the jail term was stopped and he was given bail.

He also missed his parliamentary seat following the conviction, as lawmakers sentenced to jail terms of two years or more are naturally disqualified. They are also prohibited from running for election for six years after the end of their jail terms. Gandhi is only the second lawmaker in India to be disqualified from Parliament after being sentenced. The other case was in January, but the lawmaker was naturally restored. Gandhi’s disqualification pushed India’s sole opposition parties to reduce their discrepancies and join hands to plan a united challenge to BJP in the 2024 national elections.