A court in Surat in Gujarat on Thursday, 23 March, sentenced Congress leader and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi to two years in jail in a 2019 criminal defamation case filed against him over his “Modi surname” remarks.
The court of Chief Judicial Magistrate HH Varma, which held Rahul Gandhi guilty under Indian Penal Code Sections 499 and 500, also granted him bail and suspended the sentence for 30 days to allow him to appeal in a higher court, the Congress leader’s lawyer Babu Mangukiya said.
As per the Representation of the People Act, a person sentenced to imprisonment of two years or more shall be disqualified “from the date of such conviction” and remain disqualified for another six years after serving time.
Rahul Gandhi was present in the court when the verdict was pronounced.
Case against ‘Modi’ remark
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 remarks while addressing a rally at Kolar in Karnataka ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Reacting to the judgment, complainant and Surat West BJP MLA Purnesh Modi said he welcomed the court’s verdict.
The final arguments resumed in the case last month after the Gujarat High Court vacated its stay on proceedings imposed on a plea by the complainant demanding Gandhi’s personal appearance.
After the sentence was pronounced by the court, the Wayanad MP quoted Mahatma Gandhi in a tweet about truth and non-violence.
Rahul quotes Mahatma Gandhi
“My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God, non-violence the means to get it. — Mahatma Gandhi,” the Congress leader said in a tweet in Hindi soon after the court verdict.
मेरा धर्म सत्य और अहिंसा पर आधारित है। सत्य मेरा भगवान है, अहिंसा उसे पाने का साधन।
– महात्मा गांधी
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) March 23, 2023
Several Congress leaders, including party president Mallikarjun Kharge and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, spoke out angrily on the matter.
“A scared machinery of power is trying to suppress the voice of Rahul Gandhi through ‘saam, daam, dand, bhed’ (every trick in the book),” Priyanka Gandhi said in Hindi on Twitter.
“My brother has never been afraid, nor will he ever be. He has lived is life speaking the truth, will continue to speak the truth. Will continue to raise the voice of the people of the country,” she said.
डरी हुई सत्ता की पूरी मशीनरी साम, दाम, दंड, भेद लगाकर @RahulGandhi जी की आवाज को दबाने की कोशिश कर रही है।
मेरे भाई न कभी डरे हैं, न कभी डरेंगे। सच बोलते हुए जिये हैं, सच बोलते रहेंगे। देश के लोगों की आवाज उठाते रहेंगे।
सच्चाई की ताकत व करोड़ों देशवासियों का प्यार उनके साथ है।
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) March 23, 2023
Mallikarjun Kharge said that the party believes in law and judiciary, and would fight the case according to the law.
Saying that an appeal will be filed in the matter, Kharge slammed the BJP. If they point one finger at others there are four fingers pointed at them also, he said on Twitter.
Kejriwal comes in support
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal also came in support of Rahul Gandhi, claiming that the BJP was hatching conspiracy against Opposition leaders by prosecuting them.
“A conspiracy is being hatched to eliminate non-BJP leaders and parties by prosecuting them. We have differences with Congress, but it is not right to implicate Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case like this. It is the job of the public and the Opposition to ask questions. We respect the court but disagree with the decision,” the AAP supremo wrote on Twitter.
ग़ैर बीजेपी नेताओं और पार्टियों पर मुक़दमे करके उन्हें ख़त्म करने की साज़िश हो रही है
हमारे कांग्रेस से मतभेद हैं मगर राहुल गांधी जी को इस तरह मानहानि मुक़दमे में फ़साना ठीक नहीं। जनता और विपक्ष का काम है सवाल पूछना। हम अदालत का सम्मान करते हैं पर इस निर्णय से असहमत हैं
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) March 23, 2023
The Congress said in a tweet in Hindi, “Everyone knows, Rahul Gandhi ji is raising his voice against a dictator. Showing the courage to call a wrong, a wrong.
“The dictator is rattled by this courage. He is trying to intimidate sometimes via ED, sometimes via police, sometimes via case, sometimes via punishment,” the party said.
“We will fight and win,” the party said.
सबको पता है
राहुल गांधी जी तानाशाह के खिलाफ आवाज़ बुलंद कर रहे हैं। गलत को गलत कहने का साहस दिखा रहे हैं।
इस साहस से तानाशाह घबराया हुआ है। कभी ED, कभी पुलिस, कभी केस, कभी सजा से डराने में जुटा है।
राहुल गांधी जी इस मामले में न्यायसंगत अपील दायर करेंगे। हम लड़ेंगे और जीतेंगे। pic.twitter.com/wdhA7nKCR7
— Congress (@INCIndia) March 23, 2023
Rahul sinking Congress: Rijiju
Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, on Thursday, said after the Surat court’s verdict that Rahul Gandhi’s remarks have caused harm to the Congress whose leaders were worried that the party’s fortunes were sinking.
“Whatever Rahul Gandhi says causes harm. It causes harm not only to the party but also to others. It is not good for the nation,” Rijiju told reporters when asked to comment on the Congress leader’s conviction.
The senior BJP leader said some Congress MPs had told him that Gandhi’s style of functioning was affecting the main opposition party.
“Some Congress leaders have told me that Rahul Gandhi’s style of functioning has messed up things. It is causing harm to their party. Their party is sinking,” Rijiju said.
Congress in Kerala for statewide protest
Congress workers gathered in front of Rahul Gandhi’s residence after the court sentenced him to two years in prison with placards saying that they support him.
Several Congress workers tweeted the controversial speech on their handles claiming that nothing was wrong in the statement made by the Wayanad MP.
The Congress in Kerala is set to stage a statewide protest against the verdict on Thursday evening saying that the Narendra Modi government is restricting its citizens of their right to freedom of speech and expression.
Gandhi last appeared before the Surat court in the case in October 2021 to record his statement. Before that, the Congress MP had appeared in court to plead not guilty to charges levelled against him.
Earlier in the day, state Congress leaders, including Gujarat Congress president Jagdish Thakor, legislature party leader Amit Chavda, senior leader Arjun Modhwadia, AICC in-charge of Gujarat Raghu Sharma, were at Surat airport to receive Gandhi.
A huge number of party functionaries had assembled at various spots in the city as a show of strength and support for Gandhi, with posters extolling him as ‘Sher-e-Hindustan’ (lion of Hindustan) and placards declaring that the “Congress will not bow before the dictatorship of the BJP” on display.
(With PTI inputs)