New Delhi:Congress leader Rahul Gandhi arrives at Parliament House complex, in New Delhi, on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (Photo: Qamar Sibtain/IANS)

New Delhi, April 3 (IANS) In a relief for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, a Surat sessions court on Monday granted bail, till disposal of his appeal, in the defamation case over his remark “why all thieves share the Modi surname” and also issued notice to the complainant on Gandhi’s plea for a stay on his conviction. According to legal experts, a stay on Gandhi’s conviction in the case would be sufficient to restore his Lok Sabha membership.

Speaking to IANS, senior advocate Sanjay Hedge said according to the Supreme Court judgment in the Lily Thomas case, a stay on the conviction is sufficient and if the sessions court stays Rahul’s conviction, then the Lok Sabha secretariat could restore Gandhi’s membership.

The sessions court will hear Gandhi’s appeal against conviction in the case on April 13.

Gandhi, the former President of Congress, arrived in Surat to file the appeal in sessions court against a lower court’s order that found him guilty of criminal defamation. The charges stemmed from a remark he made in April 2019 while campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections in Karnataka’s Kolar.

Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra said if the sessions court stays his conviction in the defamation case, it will pave the way for the restoration of his Lok Sabha membership. He stressed that a stay on conviction is a must.

A senior advocate, on the condition of anonymity, said Gandhi’s conviction has not been stayed by the court on Monday, however, a notice has been issued to the complainant on Gandhi’s plea seeking a stay on his conviction and the matter is scheduled for hearing on April 13. He added once his conviction is stayed, then the Lok Sabha secretariat can restore his membership.

During his campaign, Gandhi stated that “all thieves have Modi surname”, equating Prime Minister Narendra Modi with fugitives like Lalit Modi and Nirav Modi. On March 23, a lower court in Surat found him guilty of defaming the entire Modi community in a case filed by BJP MLA Purnesh Modi. Gandhi was subsequently disqualified from the Lok Sabha under a rule that bars convicted MPs from holding Lok Sabha membership.

Gandhi was given the maximum 2-year jail term for his offence, but the sentence was suspended for 30 days for him to file an appeal against the order. If the conviction is not overturned, he will be disqualified from contesting elections for the next eight years.