Devbrat Patnaik

A district court in Surat today (March 23) convicted and sentenced Congress leader and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi to two years in jail in a criminal defamation case over his 'Modi surname' remarks in 2019. He has been convicted under IPC Sections 499 and 500. 

According to the Representation of the People Act's Section 8 on disqualification on imprisonment, a lawmaker will be disqualified if convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more - for the period of imprisonment and another six years after the imprisonment.

Though pronouncing the conviction verdict, the sentence of two years has been suspended for 30 days, and the court has granted a bail to allow him file an appeal with the appellate court. 

Will Rahul Gandhi face disqualification or is he already disqualified? Let’s get into the legalities involved.

Uncertainty looms large whether Rahul Gandhi would face disqualification or if he is already disqualified and Election Commission would announce a bypoll in Wayanad, OR the MP gets one chance to continue being the people's representative.

If the appellate court doesn’t stay the conviction, then he will be subject to disqualification under Representation of the People Act, 1951. The law says that once there is an order of conviction and a sentence of two years or more, s/he stands automatically disqualified from the day of conviction, unless and until in an appeal that conviction is stayed. 

Section 8 (1) and 8(2) of the RPA deals with specific offences like terrorism offences, and offences under Prevention of Corruption Act. Section 8(3) of the RPA says that any person who has been convicted of an offence and sentenced to an imprisonment for not less than two years shall be disqualified from the date of conviction. 

Section 8 (4) says that any disqualification under these criteria shall not come into force until three months have elapsed from the date of the conviction. However, this was set aside by the Supreme Court in 2013 as 'ultra vires' citing that it is beyond the scope or in excess of legal power or authority. 

Now does Rahul Gandhi stand any chance to remain a Parliamentarian or contest polls if the verdict is not overturned or stayed? Two things can happen - either Gandhi will succeed in overturning the verdict, or he will fail. 

Speaking exclusively to, Supreme Court advocate Vivek Raja said, "If Rahul Gandhi succeeds in his appeal, the disqualification will be automatically vacated. Even if he gets a stay of the conviction while the appeal is being decided by the appellate court, he will not be disqualified. However, if the appeal court does not grant any interim stay of conviction and finally upholds the conviction already pronounced by the trial court, he will stand disqualified from the date of conviction, which means disqualification shall continue for a further period of six years from his release." 

However, the trial court verdict will be vacated if the appellate court overturns the order. “In any appeal, when an appellate court overturns the verdict of the trial court, automatically the trial court judgment goes away, and it merges with the appeal court verdict, and subsequently the appeal court verdict will then be the final decision,” said Vivek Raja. 

This also means that the initial conviction won’t hold ground anymore. But for that, Rahul Gandhi will have to succeed in his appeal. However, if he doesn’t manage to get a stay on the conviction, he will eventually be disqualified from participating in parliamentary proceedings and neither can he contest the polls. Even before the election commission comes into the picture, he will stand automatically disqualified under the provisions of RPA, said Vivek Raja. 

Here, it is pertinent to highlight one such previous incident wherein former SP MLA Azam Khan was immediately disqualified from Uttar Pradesh Assembly after a trial court sentenced him to two years imprisonment in a criminal case. So all eyes will now be on the decision of the appellate court.