A Surat court has convicted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a 2019 criminal defamation case filed against him over his “Modi surname” remarks, party leaders said on Wednesday.
The punishment is jail for two years, but the court has suspended the operation of the verdict for one month so that he can appeal the decision in a higher court.
The case was filed against Gandhi for his alleged “how come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?” remarks on a complaint lodged by BJP MLA and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi. The Lok Sabha MP from Wayanad made the alleged remarks while addressing a rally at Kolar in Karnataka ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The court of Chief Judicial Magistrate HH Varma had last week concluded hearing final arguments from both sides and set March 23 to pronounce its judgment in the four-year-old defamation case, Gandhi’s lawyer Kirit Panwala said.
“Rahul Gandhi will remain present in the court (on Thursday) when it pronounces its judgment in the criminal defamation case against him. He has made it clear that we respect the court whatever its judgment. We will welcome our leader and show him our support. The Congress cannot be browbeaten with cases like these,” said Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi.
In a tweet, the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) president asserted the party will not bow before the “dictatorship of BJP,” and appealed to people to be present in a large number to welcome Gandhi.
Gandhi was in Gujarat last to campaign for the Congress for the December 2022 Assembly elections. The party won just 17 out of the total 182 seats, its worst poll performance since the formation of the state in 1960.
He had last appeared before the Surat court in the case, filed under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 499 and 500 (dealing with defamation), in October 2021 to record his statement. Before that, the Congress MP had appeared in the court to plead not guilty to charges levelled against him.
In his complaint, BJP MLA Purnesh Modi alleged that Gandhi, while addressing the poll rally in 2019, defamed the entire Modi community by purportedly saying, “How come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?” Modi was a minister in the first tenure of the Bhupendra Patel government. The ruling party legislator was re-elected from the Surat West Assembly seat in the December elections.