Times of India | 1 month ago | 30-01-2023 | 06:49 am
PUNE: There is a cold wave expected between 1st-4th Feb over Maharashtra, Mumbai will experience temperatures way below 0 degrees for the first time ever." This was among thousands of forwarded messages, including "The reintroduction of Rs 1000 notes into circulation is scheduled for February 1, 2023" and "Crypto currency is now a legal instrument of payment in India " that TOI recently busted as fake.Under the Times Verified campaign, readers send any suspicious messages then see circulating on social media to this paper on the WhatsApp number 9819888887. To verify their credibility, our expert panel - comprising reporters, editors and representatives from the municipality and government - taps into its carefully-cultivated network of trustworthy sources.Launched nationally on November 21 last year, the Times Verified initiative aims to break the chain of viral misinformation and disinformation that has been infecting social media groups. Since the launch, TOI's editorial team has received close to 1.2 lakh messages, half of which turned out to be false. Besides misleading headlines like "The retirement age for all Govt employees increased to 67 from 15th Jan 2023" and "12 passengers of Yeti Airlines that crashed, have survived and are getting treated at a local medical Center in Nepal", the fake news included panic-inducing messages like "Meta announces major down time of 3 days for all its social media platforms starting 3rd Feb 2023, resulting out of scheduled maintenance."Recently, at the Election Commission of India's international conference on the use of technology election integrity in Delhi, Anthony Banbury, president of the US-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems, stated that misinformation was one of the biggest threats to democracy and electoral integrity. Banbury said technological tools were being developed and made available to individuals, candidates, political parties and "malign actors". "More and more companies are willing to sell commercial services to candidates, parties or nefarious actors who want to influence election outcomes to spread misinformation campaigns, to attack political opponents. And where those attacks are coming from are not seen by those consuming the information via social media," Banbury added.In this scenario, the job of our chain-breakers - readers who have been forwarding dubious messages to help identify red flags - is significant. Among these fake news chain-breakers today are readers like Karnataka's Rathnakar Holla, West Bengal's Tapas Das and Maharashtra's Vivek Amonkar, Subhash Bahulekar and Atul Bag. To join them in the war on misinformation, all you have to do is send anxiety-causing headlines doing the rounds of social media networks to our expert panel.
The April 17 summons is on a defamation case filed by Rahul Ramesh Shewale.New Delhi: Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, his son and former state minister Aditya Thackeray, and his close confidante Sanjay Raut were today summoned by the Delhi High Court in a defamation case. The April 17 summons is in connection with a petition filed by Rahul Ramesh Shewale, an MP from the rival Eknath Shinde camp of the Shiv Sena.Mr Raut and other leaders from the Thackeray camp had claimed that Maharashtra Chief Minister Mr Shinde and his fellow leaders "bought" the 'bow and arrow' symbol of the Shiv Sena for Rs 2,000 crore.Mr Shewale in his petition to the court demanded that it restrain the Thackeray camp leaders from making such remarks in the future. The court, however, said it wouldn't pass an order without hearing the other party as it's a political issue.Rahul Ramesh Shewale's lawyer during the hearing said that Sanjay Raut and others had made the allegation against an institution like the Election Commission of India. The Delhi High Court said the ECI is capable of responding to such claims.The Election Commission recently recognised the faction led by Mr Shinde as the Shiv Sena and allotted it the "bow and arrow" poll symbol.Eknath Shinde, who calls himself the true inheritor of the legacy of Shiv Sena founder and Uddhav Thackeray's father Bal Thackeray, has accused the Shiv Sena (UBT) chief of attempting to destroy the careers of leaders of his own party.Naming Raj Thackeray, Uddhav Thackeray's estranged cousin, and Narayan Rane, among others who left his side, Mr Shinde said he had never seen a leader who conspires with other political parties to destroy the political careers of his own people.''How will the party grow in such a situation? I am not 'gaddar' (traitor) but 'khuddar' (a self-respecting person). Uddhav Thackeray doesn't have the right to call us traitors," he said.Upset at Mr Thackeray for compromising with Shiv Sena's core ideals and ditching the BJP to form an alliance government with direct rivals Congress and Sharad Pawar-led NCP, Mr Shinde launched a coup that brought down the Maha Vikas Agadi government.PromotedListen to the latest songs, only on JioSaavn.comEknath Shinde, along with 39 Shiv Sena MLAs, joined forces with the BJP, which he said was his party's natural ally, and formed a new government with BJP's Devendra Fadnavis as his deputy.Shiv Sena last week sacked Sanjay Raut as the leader of its parliamentary party and appointed Lok Sabha MP Gajanan Kirtikar as his successor.
The Supreme Court has listed for hearing on Tuesday (March 28) a petition filed by Lakshadweep MP P P Mohammed Faizal challenging the Lok Sabha Secretariat’s “unlawful action” in failing to withdraw its disqualification notice, more than two months after the Kerala High Court stayed the MP’s conviction and 10-year sentence in an attempt-to-murder case.According to Faizal, a “false case” was registered against him on January 5, 2016 at Androth island police station. While the trial was ongoing, he was elected to Lok Sabha in 2019.On January 11, 2023, Faizal and three others were sentenced to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs 1 lakh each by a sessions court in Kavaratti for attempting to murder Mohammed Salih, son-in-law of the late Union Minister P M Sayeed, during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.On January 13, the Lok Sabha Secretariat notified Faizal’s disqualification under Section 8(3) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951, which provides for immediate disqualification of any “person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years”. This is the same section under which Rahul Gandhi was disqualified after a Surat magistrate’s court sentenced him to two years in jail for defamation.On January 18, with Faizal’s appeal against the sessions court order still pending before the Kerala High Court, the Election Commission announced a by-election to fill the Lakshadweep seat.On January 25, two days before the scheduled bypoll, the Kerala HC suspended the conviction and 10-year sentence given to Faizal. The EC subsequently announced that it had decided to “withhold” the byelection in Lakshadweep.On January 30, the Union Territory of Lakshadweep challenged the Kerala HC’s decision in the Supreme Court. On February 20, a Bench of Justices K M Joseph and B V Nagarathna refused to stay the HC order and, issuing notice on the UT’s plea, posted the matter for hearing on March 28.In a fresh petition, Faizal has challenged the Lok Sabha Secretariat’s non-withdrawal of the January 13 disqualification notification.The plea contends that the Secretariat’s inaction violates settled law under Section 8 of The Representation of People Act, 1951, under which the disqualification of an MP ceases to operate if their conviction is stayed by an appellate court under Section 389 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.In its ruling in Lok Prahari v Election Commission of India & Ors (2018), a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising then Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, Justice A M Khanwilkar (retd), and (now CJI) Justice D Y Chandrachud clarified that a disqualification triggered by a conviction will be reversed if the conviction is stayed by a court.“Once the conviction has been stayed during the pendency of an appeal, the disqualification which operates as a consequence of the conviction cannot take or remain in effect,” the ruling had said.
With Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from Parliament, many questions pertaining both to its legal and political ramifications have been doing the rounds. I intend here to both clarify many questions being raised and also raise new and significant ones which are consequential not only to the present case but more broadly, to the fate of our parliamentary democracy.On March 23, the chief judicial magistrate, Surat, sentenced Congress MP Rahul Gandhi to two years imprisonment and also imposed a fine of Rs 15,000 after convicting him for the offence of criminal defamation under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code.The court suspended his sentence for 30 days and granted him bail to enable him to file an appeal in a higher court against its verdict. Following this, the very next day, the Lok Sabha Secretariat issued Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification notification.Congress workers rushed to the streets in many parts of the country, instead of his lawyers rushing to the court in appeal. The solution only lies in the courts. The disqualification can only be reversed if a higher court grants a stay on the conviction or reverses the conviction. After the Lily Thomas judgment of the Supreme Court in 2013, disqualification comes into immediate effect.On October 1, 2013, Rasheed Masood became the first MP to lose his membership of Parliament upon his conviction in a criminal case. After that, over 20 other legislators, including Lalu Prasad, have been disqualified under the same provision.Did the Lok Sabha secretariat act in undue haste as alleged by some? A former Attorney General pointed out that the secretariat has no option. He clarified that as soon as the judge signs the conviction order, disqualification kicks in. He, however, did not mention a violation of this principle that has happened in a similar case from Lakshadweep.The Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faisal was convicted in an attempt-to-murder case and was awarded a 10-year sentence. Two days later, the Lok Sabha Secretariat issued a notification disqualifying him. On January 18, 2023, the Election Commission declared a by-poll for the Lakshadweep seat. However, on January 25, the Kerala High Court stayed Faisal’s conviction. The SC thereafter stayed the by-poll — which the Election Commission had ordered with a similar speed. Even then, to this day, he has not been reinstated in Parliament. What the legal luminary has not mentioned is whether the removal of disqualification also comes into effect the moment the court signs the order suspending conviction. Does this not lend credence to the allegation of selective haste? Besides, doesn’t this wilful disobedience to the orders of the High Court, attract contempt of court? In Lok Prahari v Election Commission of India (2018), the Supreme Court held that once a conviction has been stayed during the pendency of an appeal, the disqualification which operates as a consequence of the conviction cannot take or remain in effect.Some puzzling questions remain that need to be answered. How was it that the petitioner who filed the suit against Rahul Gandhi, sought a stay from the High Court on Gandhi’s trial last year and was successful in delaying the proceedings for nearly twelve months? And what specific circumstances prompted him to seek a vacation of stay when no additional evidence was produced? Why was the magistrate changed last month? No reason has surfaced.Thirdly, did Rahul Gandhi’s remarks come under criminal defamation as opposed to civil defamation? This is what he had said at a rally in Kolar, Karnataka, on April 13, 2019: “One small question, how are the names of all these thieves ‘Modi, Modi, Modi’… Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi…”Did it call for a sentence of the maximum possible prison-term of two years? Incidentally, this is the minimum period of punishment which attracts disqualification under the Representation of People Act 1951.Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly of all: In a political atmosphere such as ours which is being increasingly charged with high levels of hate speech and vitriolic politics, how many of our politicians can truly survive the test of Section 153 (a) and Section 505, conviction under both of which can lead to disqualification under Section 8 of the Representation of People Act, 1951? Both the aforementioned sections deal with the offences of promoting enmity based on religious and linguistic grounds, among others. Therefore, why is there this selective efficiency in disqualifying members of the Opposition while turning a blind eye toward the members of the ruling dispensation? Surely, as the ruling party themselves are stating repeatedly, equality before the law is a cardinal principle and no one is above the law.I believe it is high time that we review and rethink the use and legitimacy of defamation cases in general. Many democratic countries around the world, including the UK, USA and Sri Lanka have decriminalised defamation where it is no longer a criminal offence. It may do us well to follow suit.Finally, in conclusion, it must be remembered that the best and the correct way to proceed from hereon will be through the due process of the courts. The judgment determining the legality of the disqualification cannot be deliberated in the streets. The political fallout of this issue is slowly unfolding and we wait to see where this may finally take us, especially in light of the 2024 general elections.But whatever may be the electoral results and legal verdicts, it is an indisputable fact that a healthy Opposition is imperative for a healthy democracy. We must not allow it to be killed.The writer is former Chief Election Commissioner of India and the author of An Undocumented Wonder: The Making of the Great Indian Election
The Congress on Saturday announced its first list of 124 candidates for the upcoming assembly elections in Karnataka with former chief minister Siddaramaiah being fielded from his Varuna seat.Pradesh Congress Committee chief DK Shivakumar will contest the elections from his Kanakapura assembly constituency, according to the list.PR1 Karnataka vs Candidates 2023 by Dorjee Wangmo on ScribdThe party has fielded former deputy chief minister G Parameshwara from the Koratagere (SC) constituency. Former ministers KH Muniappa and Priyanka Kharge will contest from Devanahalli and Chitapur (SC), respectively. Priyanka is the son of Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge.The party’s central election committee cleared the first list of candidates after a meeting in Delhi on March 17. The committee is chaired by Congress chief Kharge. Rahul Gandhi was also present at the meeting.The Congress is the first party to release its candidates’ list for the elections in Karnataka. The Election Commission is yet to announce the schedule for assembly polls in the southern state.Assembly polls in Karnataka are slated before May when the tenure of the current assembly ends.The Congress is seeking to wrest power from the BJP in the southern state.
There is a very interesting passage in a Supreme Court judgment delivered way back in 1965 in Kultar Singh vs Mukhtiar Singh, which comes to mind in the context of the conviction and subsequent disqualification of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in the defamation case. The Court was called upon to decide whether the word “panth” used in a pamphlet amounted to an appeal in the name of religion. The Court said, “the document must be read as a whole and its purport and effect determined in a fair, objective and reasonable manner. In reading such documents it would be unrealistic to ignore the fact that when election meetings are held and appeals are made by candidates of opposing parties the atmosphere is usually surcharged with partisan feelings and emotions and the use of hyperboles or exaggerated language or the adoption of metaphors and the extravagance of expression in attacking one another are all a part of the game. So when the question about the effect of speeches delivered is argued in the cold atmosphere of a judicial chamber, some allowance must be made and impugned speeches must be construed in that light.”The above passage contains a very salutary principle that the language used by politicians in a politically charged atmosphere like election meetings etc. should be treated with a little understanding and a spirit of realism. Well, it is for the courts in India to pay heed to the sane advice coming from the apex court.Whether a particular surname used by Rahul Gandhi was intended to defame a whole community of people carrying that surname or whether it was said with no malice or whether it was an innocent off the cuff remark for the purpose of causing a little laugh is for the appellate court to delve into. But the order of the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Surat convicting and sentencing a top political leader of India like Rahul Gandhi to two years imprisonment is unprecedented and in a way a negation of the principle enunciated by the Supreme Court. It is to be noted that two years imprisonment is the maximum punishment provided for the offence of defamation provided in the IPC. Incidentally, this is the minimum period of punishment which attracts disqualification under the Representation of People Act 1951.The order of the CJM has thrown up some important constitutional and legal issues. Under Section 8(3) of the Representation of People Act 1951, a person convicted of an offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years shall be disqualified from the date of conviction and would remain disqualified for a further period of six years after his release. The effect of disqualification is that he will be barred from contesting any election and also from voting during the period of disqualification.However, there was an exception provided in Section 8(4) in favour of the sitting members of a legislature under which the order of disqualification would not take effect until after three months from the date of that order. If during these three months he filed an appeal, the disqualification order would be kept in abeyance till the appeal is disposed off. This three-month window was knocked down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional in 2013 in Lily Thomas vs Union of India. The result is that as soon as a sitting member is sentenced to imprisonment for two years, his disqualification takes effect. Of course, when that member obtains a stay of the conviction and sentence from the appellate court, the disqualification is lifted. But a tricky legal question that arises is whether he ceases to be a member as soon as he is convicted and sentenced.To answer this question, we may have to travel outside the SC decision in Lily Thomas. Article 103 of the Constitution says that if a question arises as to whether a sitting member of the legislature has become subject to disqualification, the question shall be referred to the President whose decision shall be final. But before giving his decision, the President shall refer the question to the Election Commission and shall act in accordance with the opinion of the Commission. Disqualification can arise according to Article 102 in many ways. One of the grounds for disqualification under Article 102 is conviction for any offence and sentence to imprisonment for two years or more. So, the question of disqualification of Rahul Gandhi ought to have been decided by the President as per Article 103 before any further action is taken.In other words, the disqualification can take effect under Article 103 only after the President has taken a decision. It is interesting to note that another judgment of the Supreme Court says that presidential decision is essential before disqualification takes effect and the seat in the house is declared vacant under Article 101(3). The Court says: “However, vacancies contemplated in Article 101(3)(a) will arise only when the disqualification is decided upon and declared by the President under Article 103(1)” (Consumer Education and Research Society vs Union of India, 2009). This judgment was given by a three-judge bench whereas Lily Thomas was decided by a two-judge bench. So, under Article 103, there cannot be an automatic disqualification of a sitting member of the legislature. Section 8(3) of the RP Act 1951 does not provide for automatic disqualification. It uses the words “shall be disqualified” and not “shall stand disqualified”. However, the Lok Sabha Secretariat has issued a notification now stating that Rahul Gandhi stands disqualified which is apparently in conflict with Section 8(3) of the RP Act.The immediate effect of disqualification will be a declaration by the Secretariat of the Lok Sabha that the seat has become vacant. This was perhaps done in the case of the sitting MP from Lakshadweep. But as per the decision of the Supreme Court in the Consumer Education case (supra) this declaration can be made only after the President has announced her decision on the question of disqualification.Defamation as a criminal offence is being done away with in many democratic countries: It is no longer an offence in the UK, USA or Sri Lanka. There is a growing volume of opinion in democratic societies in favour of decriminalising defamation. The Indian society being too much involved in acrimonious, adversarial politics is unable to speak aloud for abolishing this law. It is an irony that the descendents of the mother of democracy are too preoccupied to notice the impact of the criminalisation of defamation.The writer is former Secretary General, Lok Sabha