ANI Photo | “In democracy, we have dissent, disagreement”: Rahul Gandhi’s lawyer told SC in his arguments in ‘Modi’ surname case  

The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the conviction of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in the criminal defamation case over the ‘Modi” surname’ remark while saying that person in public life is expected to exercise caution while making public speeches. 
The court earlier in the day began hearing the appeal filed by Gandhi challenging the Gujarat High Court  order.
The apex court told Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for Rahul Gandhi, that he will have to make out an exceptional case today for a stay on conviction.
Singhvi said in his arguments that in democracy, there is dissent and disagreement.
Rahul Gandhi was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment which disqualified him as an MP under the rigours of the Representation of People Act. 
After his conviction in the case, Gandhi was declared disqualified as MP from Kerala’s Wayanad on March 24 following notification of the Lok Sabha Secretariat. 
Singhvi said that complainant Purnesh Modi’s original surname is not ‘Modi’ and he adopted this surname later.
“Not a single of the persons Gandhi had named during his speech has sued. This is a small community of 13 crore people and there is no uniformity or homogeneity. Who is aggrieved in this community are only people who are BJP office-holders…,” Singhvi said.
Referring to the earlier verdict in the case by a lower court, Singhvi said the judge treats this as a serious offence involving a moral turpitude.
“This is non-cognisable, bailable, and compoundable offence. The offence was not against society, not kidnapping, rape, or murder. How can this become an offence involving moral turpitude?” he argued.
“In democracy we have dissent, in democracy we have disagreement. What we call ‘shaleen bhasha’. Gandhi is not a hardened criminal. There are many cases filed by BJP workers, but there was never any conviction. Gandhi has already missed two sessions of the Parliament,” he added.
Senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, who appeared for complainant Purnesh Modi, said the entire speech spanned over 50 minutes and there is plethora of evidence and clipping of the speech attached in Election Commission of India’s record. Jethmalani said that Rahul Gandhi “has defamed an entire class out of malice”.
The apex court asked Jethmalani about how many politicians would remember what they speak during 10-15 gatherings in a day?
In its order, the bench headed by Justice BR Gavai said no reason has been given by the trial court judge for imposing maximum sentence, and “order of conviction needs to be stayed pending final adjudication”. 

The apex court while granting relief to Gandhi said the ramifications of the trial court’s order are wide. 

Not only was Gandhi’s right to continue in public life affected but also that of the electorate who elected him, the bench said. 

The bench also said there is no doubt that the utterances of Gandhi were “not in good taste” and “person in public life expected to exercise caution while making public speeches”. 

The top court further said that Gandhi ought to have been more careful. 
“Trial judge has awarded maximum sentence of two years. Except for the admonition by Supreme Court, no other reason has been granted for this by the trial judge forwarding a maximum of two years of the sentence. It is to be noted only on account of this maximum sentence, provisions of the Representation of People Act have come into play. Had the sentence been a day lesser, provisions would not have been attracted,” the bench stated in its order. 
When the offence is non-cognisable, bailable, or compoundable, the trial judge is expected to give reasons for imposing maximum sentence, it added. 

“Though the court has spent voluminous pages rejecting stay on conviction, these aspects are not considered in their orders,” the bench further said.  (ANI)

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