India court rejects Rahul Gandhi's plea to suspend defamation conviction

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An Indian state court refused to stay opposition leader Rahul Gandhi’s conviction for criminal defamation in a ruling Friday that sets back his prospects to contest national elections next year.

A fierce critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his main challenger in 2024 polls, Gandhi had been ousted from Parliament after his conviction in March, and a stay would have opened up a path to reinstate his parliamentary seat.

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The defamation case involved comments Gandhi made in a 2019 election speech that were deemed to be insulting to Modi’s surname. He was sentenced to two years in prison, but the court suspended his prison sentence in April.

Gandhi can still seek to stay the conviction to a larger bench of the Gujarat state high court or to the Supreme Court of India.

He risks losing his eligibility to run in elections for the next eight years if a court doesn’t overturn his conviction and two-year sentence.

A man who shares the prime minister's surname, which is common in Gujarat, accused the opposition leader of defamation over a speech in which he asked, “Why do all thieves have Modi as their surname?” Gandhi then referred to three well-known and unrelated Modis in the speech: a fugitive Indian diamond tycoon, a cricket executive banned from the Indian Premier League, and the prime minister.

The petitioner who filed the case is a member of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat but is not related to the prime minister or the other two Modis mentioned by Gandhi.

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