An ordinance, brought by the UPA government to shield convicted lawmakers from immediate disqualification from the House, was trashed then by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who even tore it publicly during a media interaction, and eventually it had to be withdrawn.
Now, following his conviction in a defamation case by a Surat court on Thursday, his act seems to have come back to haunt him.
In a 2013 ruling in the Lily Thomas vs Union of India case, the Supreme Court had struck down, as “unconstitutional”, Section 8(4) of the Representation of The People Act, which stated that if a sitting member of the House is convicted of an offence punishable by more than two years in prison and files an appeal within three months of the conviction, he/she will not be disqualified from holding membership of the House.
This meant that for such lawmakers, simply filing an appeal would not be sufficient but they must secure a stay on their conviction in the case.
The same year, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had promulgated an ordinance to overturn the judgement and retain Section 8 (4), but Rahul Gandhi had called the ordinance “complete nonsense”.
“I will tell you what my opinion on the ordinance is. It’s complete nonsense and it’s my personal opinion,” he said, before going to rip a copy of the ordinance into pieces.
This act, which came at a time when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was on a foreign trip, had severely embarrassed the government, which went on to withdraw it.
Under the changed law, several politicians were disqualified, beginning with Congress MP Rasheed Masood in 2013 itself.
Masood, a Rajya Sabha member, was disqualified in 2013 itself after he was found guilty of criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery in allocating seats in a medical college when he was a minister in the V.P. Singh government (1989-90).
Others who have been disqualified include RJD chief Lalu Prasad and JD-U’s Jagdish Sharma, who were disqualified as Lok Sabha members following their conviction in fodder scam cases.
In 2014, DMK’s Rajya Sabha member T.M. Selvaganapathy was disqualified after a Chennai court found him guilty of a financial scam embedded in the construction of sheds used at crematoriums across Tamil Nadu in 1995, and sentenced him to two years jail.
At the time, he was the Rural Development Minister in the J. Jayalalithaa’s government. He was expelled from the AIADMK in 2008 after the graft charges surfaced and had then joined the DMK, which had sent him to the Upper House.
In 2018, Jharkhand Party’s Kolebira legislator Anosh Ekka was disqualified from the membership of the House after his conviction and sentencing to life imprisonment for murdering a para-teacher in 2014.
Samajwadi Party MLA Abdullah Azam Khan was disqualified from the Uttar Pradesh Assembly in 2022 after a court sentenced him to jail in a hate speech case. His son was also disqualified as a member of the House after his conviction in another case.
The Representation of the People Act’s Section 8 on disqualification on imprisonment provides that a lawmaker will be disqualified if convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more – for the period of imprisonment and a further six years.
But, there is an exception for sitting members provided in the Act.
A district court in Surat on Thursday convicted Gandhi in a criminal defamation case against him over his alleged ‘Modi surname’ remark in 2019. He was convicted under IPC’s Sections 499 and 500 where the maximum possible punishment is two years jail.
(The story has been published via a syndicated feed with a modified headline.)