The Gujarat High Court judge assigned to hear the appeal of Congress’s Rahul Gandhi in the Modi surname case, has recused herself. Sources said Justice Geeta Gopi has directed the court registry to hand over the case to the Chief Justice for assignment to a different bench. Assigning a new judge might take two days, Mr Gandhi’s lawyer PS Chapaneri has told NDTV.
Mr Gandhi went to the Gujarat High Court yesterday after a lower court turned down his request to freeze conviction in the case involving his remarks on the surname of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Mr Gandhi — disqualified from parliament last month after receiving a two-year jail term — cannot be reinstated if his sentence is not overturned or suspended. Also, he would be unable to contest elections for the next eight years.
In his appeal, he has argued that the Surat sessions court has erred in dismissing his plea seeking stay of conviction, which, he added, has caused him “irreparable and irreversible damage”.
In his appeal to the Surat court earlier this month, Mr Gandhi had contended that the trial court had treated him harshly, overwhelmingly influenced by his status as an MP. Its decision, he again said, has caused him irreversible damage.
The judge, however, declare that Mr Gandhi had “failed to demonstrate” that he is facing “irreversible and irrevocable damage” if his conviction is not stayed and he is not allowed to contest elections.
Agreeing with the trial court, the judge also said a high standard of morality was expected from a person of Mr Gandhi’s stature.
Decisions to pause conviction should be exercised with caution and “not in a casual and mechanical manner… (as) that will shake public confidence in the judiciary,” he had added, citing a judgment from the Supreme Court.
The two-year jail term awarded to Mr Gandhi is the maximum possible in a criminal defamation case. It is also the minimum requirement to disqualify an MP – a situation that has had the opposition up in arms.
Condemning his disqualification, the opposition accused the BJP of delivering a body blow to democracy.
In the campaign ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Mr Gandhi had said, “How come all thieves have the common surname Modi” – targeting the Prime Minister over his last name, which he shares with fugitive businessmen Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi.
The BJP alleged it was an insult to the OBC (Other Backward Classes) community and a party leader in Gujarat, Purnesh Modi, filed a defamation case against Mr Gandhi.
The Congress has question how Mr Gandhi could be sued for defamation over what was effectively slander. The party also questioned the quantum of punishment and why the magistrate who handed the sentence, suspended it on his own.