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What are the laws under which Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified?

The notice issued by the Lok Sabha Secretariat disqualifying Rahul Gandhi mentions Article 102(1)(e) of the Indian Constitution and the Representation of People Act, 1951.

Rahul Gandhi disqualifiedOn Thursday (March 23), Rahul Gandhi was held guilty and sentenced to two years in jail by a Surat court in a 2019 defamation case, over his remarks about the “Modi” surname. (PTI Photo)

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified from the Lok Sabha, a day after he was convicted in a defamation case by a Surat court. A notice issued by the Lok Sabha Secretariat said he stood disqualified from the House from March 23, the day of his conviction. Rahul Gandhi has to now move a higher court and get his conviction stayed.

The notice read, “Consequent upon his conviction by the Court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Surat C.C./18712/2019, Shri Rahul Gandhi, Member of Lok Sabha representing the Wayanad Parliamentary Constituency in Kerala stands disqualified from the membership of the Lok Sabha from the date of his conviction i.e. 23 March, 2023 in terms of the provisions of Article 102 (1)(e) of the Constitution of India read with Section 8 of the Representation of People Act,1951.”

On Thursday (March 23), Gandhi was held guilty and sentenced to two years in jail by a Surat court in a 2019 defamation case, over his remarks about the “Modi” surname. The conviction triggered the process of his disqualification as a lawmaker.

What is Article 102 of the Indian Constitution?

Article 102 deals with the disqualification of MPs from either house of the Parliament.

Part (1) of the article lists the reasons why an MP can be disqualified. These include, “(a) if he holds any office of profit under the Government of India or the Government of any State, other than an office declared by Parliament by law not to disqualify its holder; (b) if he is of unsound mind and stands so declared by a competent court; (c) if he is an undischarged insolvent; (d) if he is not a citizen of India, or has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of a foreign State, or is under any acknowledgment of allegiance or adherence to a foreign State; (e) if he is so disqualified by or under any law made by Parliament.”

In Rahul Gandhi’s case, the last point (if he is so disqualified by or under any law made by Parliament) applies. The law under which he has been disqualified is the Representation of People Act, 1951.

What is the Representation of People Act, 1951?

The Representation of the People Act, 1951 is an act of Parliament of India to provide for the conduct of election of the Houses of Parliament and to the House or Houses of the Legislature of each State, the qualifications and disqualifications for membership of those Houses, the corrupt practices and other offences at or in connection with such elections and the decision of doubts and disputes arising out of or in connection with such elections. It was introduced in Parliament by law minister Dr BR Ambedkar.

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There are several provisions that deal with disqualification under the RPA.

First, disqualification is triggered for conviction under certain offences listed in Section 8(1) of The Representation of The People Act. This includes specific offences such as promoting enmity between two groups, bribery, and undue influence or personation at an election. Senior Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan lost his Uttar Pradesh Assembly membership in October 2022 after he was convicted in a hate speech case. Defamation does not fall in this list.

Section 8(2) also lists offences that deal with hoarding or profiteering, adulteration of food or drugs and for conviction and sentence of at least six months for an offence under any provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act.

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Section 8(3) states: “A person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years shall be disqualified from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release.” This is the provision under which Rahul Gandhi has been disqualified.

How does the disqualification work?

The disqualification can be reversed if a higher court grants a stay on the conviction or decides the appeal in favour of the convicted lawmaker. Significantly, the stay cannot merely be a suspension of sentence under Section 389 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), but a stay of conviction.

Over the years, the law has changed when it comes to disqualification. Under the RPA, Section 8(4) stated that the disqualification takes effect only “after three months have elapsed” from the date of conviction. Within that period, lawmakers could file an appeal against the sentence before the High Court.

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However, in the landmark 2013 ruling in ‘Lily Thomas v Union of India’, the Supreme Court struck down Section 8(4) of the RPA as unconstitutional. This is what has allowed the Lok Sabha Secretariat to immediately disqualify Rahul Gandhi.

First published on: 24-03-2023 at 16:59 IST
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