Rahul Gandhi has been making waves in the media with his disqualification from the Lok Sabha following the conclusion of his defamation trial on March 23rd. The disqualification is twofold, so to expound on the same, we must look at his 2019 defamation case and his 2023 disqualification separately.
During his 2019 Kolar campaign, Rahul Gandhi made his infamous remark, “Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi. How come all the thieves have ‘Modi’ as a common surname?”
For a legal context, section 499 of the IPC lays down that whoever makes any assertion concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said to defame that person. While comments made on the public conduct of public servants such as PM Narendra Modi do not fall under the ambit of this provision, Rahul Gandhi went so far as to imply that all Modis are thieves. His qualification, as senior advocate C Aryama Sundaram discusses, accuses the geneses for the actions of the species, equating the few to the many.
Consequent to Mr Gandhi’s remarks in 2019, Purnesh Modi, a former BJP MLA filed a case of defamation of all people with the Modi surname in the Surat court. Owing to the slowness of the Indian judiciary, it was on the 23rd of March 2023 that the case was finally decided.
The court found Mr. Gandhi guilty and sentenced him to the maximum available sentence under section 500 of the IPC, of 2 years with a fine of 15,000 rupees. This conviction for a period equal to or exceeding 2 years disqualified him from the Lok Sabha per Article 102(1)(e) of the Constitution of India read with Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
One of the main arguments brought up by the counsel for Mr. Gandhi relates to ‘if there even exists a Modi community for it to be defamed’. While they argued that it doesn’t, I believe this argument is of little consequence. At the end of the day, these words spoken by such a major prominent political figure are going to create certain preconceived notions and biases against those with the Modi surname and bring down their reputation in society. Added to this is the fact that there exists an OBC community that also shares the surname of Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi and Narendra Modi. On top of them being considered a ‘backward’ community, Mr. Gandhi’s comments could result in loss of employment, social ousting or consequences worse for these individuals – all due to the mindless utterances of our 52-year-old ‘youth’ leader!
The court too, keeping these factors in mind remarked, “The accused himself is an MP and the matter of him addressing the people as an MP is a very serious issue because, when an MP addresses the public in the capacity of a parliamentarian, it has a very wide impact on the public. The seriousness of the crime is greater if the accused is an MP …if the accused is punished less, it sends a wrong message to the society”
The liberal discourse on the matter is that many Modis aren’t OBCs, as was also promoted by Shashi Tharoor. However very few are talking about the adverse consequences of Mr. Gandhi’s remarks on the Modi community. Even if it is a smaller portion of the 13 crore community that is affected, the law of the land provides for their protection and Rahul Gandhi shouldn’t be able to escape accountability for his actions just because he’s seen as the ‘voice of dissent’ and is an opposition ‘leader’.