Does Rahul Gandhi stand disqualified as an MP following his conviction?

Source: The post is based on the following articles:

–  “Does Rahul Gandhi stand disqualified as an MP following his conviction?” published in The Hindu on 24th March 2023

– “Rahul Gandhi has been convicted, but what happens to his MP status? Here’s what the law says” published in Indian Express on 24th March 2023

What is the News?

A Surat court sentenced Congress leader (Rahul Gandhi) to two years in jail in a 2019 defamation case and also granted him bail and suspended his sentence for 30 days to allow him to appeal. His conviction has led to questions over his status as a Member of Parliament from Wayanad, Kerala. 

How can an MP be disqualified?

Disqualification of a lawmaker is prescribed in three situations:

First is through Articles 102(1) and 191(1) for disqualification of a member of Parliament and a member of the Legislative Assembly respectively. The grounds here include holding an office of profit, being of unsound mind or insolvent or not having valid citizenship.

The second prescription of disqualification is in the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, which provides for the disqualification of the members on grounds of defection.

The third prescription is under The Representation of The People Act (RPA), 1951. This law provides for disqualification for conviction in criminal cases.

What does RPA Law say about disqualification?

Section 8 of the RPA deals with disqualification for conviction of offences. The provision is aimed at “preventing criminalisation of politics” and keeping ‘tainted’ lawmakers from contesting elections.

Disqualification is triggered for conviction under certain offences listed in Section 8(1). Section 8(1) includes certain specific offences such as promoting enmity between two groups, bribery and undue influence or personation at an election. Defamation does not fall under this list.

Section 8(3) of the RPA mandates that an MP can be disqualified if convicted and sentenced to not less than two years of imprisonment.

How does an appeal against the conviction impact disqualification?

As per Section 8(4) of the RPA the disqualification takes effect only after three months have elapsed from the date of conviction.

Within that period, the convicted lawmaker could have filed an appeal against the sentence before a higher court.

However, this provision was struck down as “unconstitutional” in the SC’s landmark 2013 ruling in ‘Lily Thomas v Union of India’.

This means that simply filing an appeal will not be enough but the convicted MP must secure a specific order of stay against the conviction of the trial court. 

Note: In 2018, in ‘Lok Prahari v Union of India’ case, the SC clarified that the disqualification will not operate from the date of the stay of conviction by the appellate court.

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