By: Chandrashekar Bhat
India’s Surat court which on Thursday (23) sentenced Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to a two-year jail term in a criminal defamation case noted that the seriousness of his crime increased because a speech delivered by a member of parliament has a “very wide impact on the public.”
Convicting Gandhi under the Indian Penal Code, chief judicial magistrate HH Varma observed that if the accused was given a lesser punishment, it would send the wrong message to the public, and the purpose of defamation law would not be fulfilled.
Gandhi could have limited his speech to prime minister Narendra Modi, Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choksi, and Anil Ambani, but he “intentionally” made a statement that hurt individuals carrying the Modi surname, and thereby committed criminal defamation, the court said in the judgment.
He knew the impact his remarks would have on the public as the speech was delivered during an election campaign, the court said. It added that the Congress leader knew how he would gain from his controversial remark.
The case had been registered against Gandhi by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi.
Gandhi, who represents Wayanad in Kerala, made the remark at a rally at Kolar in Karnataka on April 13, 2019, during the Lok Sabha general election campaign.
“The accused himself is a Member of Parliament, and the address made by a person in his capacity as an MP has a very wide impact on the public, because of which the seriousness of the crime increases,” the court said.
“If the accused is given lesser punishment, it will send a wrong message to the public and the purpose of defamation (law) is not fulfilled and slandering will become easy,” it further said.
The court also mentioned the criminal contempt proceedings initiated against Gandhi by the Supreme Court in 2018 over his “chowkidaar chor hai” (the watchman is a thief) remark, and noted that the apex court had then asked him to remain “alert” in the future after he submitted an unconditional apology.
“Even though the accused was advised by the Supreme Court to remain alert, there does not seem to be any change in his conduct,” the magistrate’s court observed.