India’s Supreme Court has suspended opposition leader Rahul Gandhi’s conviction in a criminal defamation case.
The Congress leader was sentenced to two years in jail in March for his 2019 comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surname at an election rally.
Mr Gandhi was disqualified as an MP following his sentencing.
Friday’s court ruling paves the way for him to return to parliament and contest general elections next year.
The office of the lower house of parliament will need to revoke Mr Gandhi’s disqualification for him to become an MP again.
“This will have to be done immediately,” PDT Achary, former secretary general of the lower house, told the BBC. He added that Mr Gandhi can start attending the ongoing parliament session from Monday.
“If the matter pertaining to his conviction is not settled, he would still be eligible to contest the next general elections,” he said.
The Supreme Court noted that the reasons given by the trial judge for giving the maximum punishment of two years to Mr Gandhi “are without sufficient reasons and grounds”.
The court also cautioned Mr Gandhi that he should have been more careful while making the alleged remarks.
The defamation case against Mr Gandhi, brought by BJP lawmaker Purnesh Modi, revolved around comments the Congress leader made in Karnataka state in 2019 during an election rally.
“Why do all these thieves have Modi as their surname? Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi,” he said.
Nirav Modi is a fugitive Indian diamond tycoon while Lalit Modi is a former chief of the Indian Premier League (IPL) who has been banned for life by the country’s cricket board.
In his complaint, Purnesh Modi alleged that the comments had defamed the entire Modi community. However, Mr Gandhi said that he made the comment to highlight corruption and it was not directed against any community.
A lower court had granted Mr Gandhi bail to appeal against his conviction but in July, the Gujarat high court dismissed his appeal seeking a stay on his conviction.