Congress leader Hardik Patel will not be able to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections as the Gujarat High Court on Friday rejected his plea to stay his conviction in a 2015 rioting case, ANI reported. Patel may now approach the Supreme Court.

In July 2018, a court in Mehsana district had sentenced Patel and two of his aides to two years in jail for rioting and arson in Visnagar town in 2015 during a protest led by him to seek reservations for his community, the Patidars. The High Court later granted Patel bail and suspended his jail sentence, but his conviction remained valid.

Patel moved the High Court earlier this month to seek a stay on his conviction on the grounds that he wanted to contest the elections. He had joined the Congress on March 12.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the state government opposed his plea, producing photographic evidence and documents to show that Patel was present at the time of the incident. He was accused of vandalising a Bharatiya Janata Party MLA’s office. The state government had also argued that 17 first information reports have been filed against Patel, and he has also been charged with sedition, PTI reported.

However, Patel’s advocates claimed that no one had seen the Patidar leader on the spot of the incident, and the trial court did not examine any independent witnesses.

Justice AG Uraizee said in his order on Friday that a conviction can be stayed only in exceptional cases, and Patel’s case does not fall in that category. The court added that it cannot grant the Patidar leader any relief due to his criminal background.

Patel’s lawyers said they will study the order before deciding whether to appeal in the Supreme Court. The last date for filing nominations for the April 23 elections in Gujarat is April 4.

Under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, a convict facing a jail term of two years or more cannot contest elections unless the conviction is stayed.

Before he joined the Congress, Patel’s outfit, the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, had led protests in 2015 to demand Other Backward Class status and 27% reservation in government jobs and education for the Patel community. The Gujarat Police had filed a sedition case against him, for which he spent nine months in jail, from October 2015 to July 2016.

Patel turned 25 last year, making him eligible to stand for the Lok Sabha polls this time. In February, he had announced that he will “definitely” contest the General Elections. He had reportedly expressed the desire to contest the Lok Sabha elections from the Jamnagar seat.