NEW DELHI (Reuters) -The Supreme Court of India on Friday suspended opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi's conviction in a defamation case, enabling him to return to parliament and contest national elections due next year.
Gandhi was convicted in March in a case brought by a lawmaker from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the western state of Gujarat, over comments he made in 2019 deemed insulting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other people surnamed Modi, including the lawmaker.
Gandhi, 53, scion of a dynasty that has given India three prime ministers, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment but the jail term was put on hold and he was granted bail.
He also lost his parliamentary seat following the conviction, since lawmakers sentenced to jail terms of two years or more are automatically disqualified. As a result of the Supreme Court's ruling the lower house of parliament should now formally reinstate Gandhi.
Lower courts and the high court in Gujarat, where the BJP holds power, had rejected appeals by Gandhi to suspend the conviction, causing him to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court judge Justice B.R. Gavai said the lower court which sentenced Gandhi to two years in jail had not given any reasons for handing down the maximum sentence of two years which led to his disqualification from parliament.
While Gandhi's comments were "not in good taste" and he "ought to have been more careful while making public speeches", the conviction not only punished Gandhi but also voters who had elected him to represent their constituency, said Gavai, who headed a bench of three judges which suspended the conviction.
There was no immediate reaction to the order from Gandhi but Congress members broke out into celebration, shouted slogans and distributed sweets at the party headquarters in New Delhi.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of Congress in the lower house of parliament, said he would write to the speaker on Friday itself seeking Gandhi's reinstatement.
"Rahul Gandhi has got relief from the false allegations that were made against him," Chowdhury told reporters. "This is the victory of truth...it will cost Modi heavily."
There was no immediate reaction to the court ruling from BJP.
(Reporting by YP Rajesh and Arpan Chaturvedi; Editing by Kim Coghill & Simon Cameron-Moore)