Factbox: Why Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi may lose his parliament seatGandhi was found guilty of defamation by a magistrate’s court in Gujarat for an election speech he made in 2019 in which he referred to thieves having Modi as their surnames.
India’s opposition leader Rahul Gandhi faces the risk of being immediately disqualified as a lawmaker after being convicted in a defamation case and sentenced to two years in jail.
Here are some examples of how that might play out:
What does the law say?
The Representation of the People Act, 1951, the law that governs elections in India, mandates disqualification of any lawmaker who is “convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years”.
Gandhi, 52, was on Thursday found guilty of defamation by a magistrate’s court in the western state of Gujarat for an election speech he made in 2019 in which he referred to thieves having Modi as their surnames.
The disqualification comes into effect from the date of conviction.
A formal disqualification order will, however, have to be passed by the secretariat of the lower house of parliament of which Gandhi is a member.
Can Gandhi contest elections?
Gandhi faces the risk of not being able to contest national elections due in 2024 if his conviction is not suspended or overturned by a higher court before the elections.
The law also mandates that a convicted lawmaker cannot contest elections for six years after the end of their jail sentence.
Gandhi represents the Wayanad constituency in the southern state of Kerala.
How can Gandhi avoid disqualification?
To avoid disqualification, a convicted lawmaker has to secure an order from a higher court suspending the conviction, lawyers said.
The Representation of the People Act does not give any timeframe for securing such a suspension or acquittal before parliament passes the formal disqualification order.
The disqualification can also be overturned and the lawmaker reinstated to parliament if the conviction is stayed or overturned and a fresh election to the seat is yet to be conducted.
Gandhi was present in the Gujarat court which gave him bail immediately and suspended the sentence for a month, allowing him to appeal against it.
He can secure bail extensions during the appeal period but cannot contest elections until the conviction is stayed or he is acquitted in the case.
“So while it appears from reports that Mr. Gandhi’s sentence has been suspended by the court that convicted him, he would have to soon obtain a stay on the conviction from an appellate court to save himself from disqualification,” Supreme Court lawyer Vikram Hegde told Reuters.
Gandhi, a senior leader of the Congress party and the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, will appeal in a higher court, his party said.