The case was filed against Rahul Gandhi for a remark targetting PM Narendra Modi over his last name, which he shares with fugitive businessmen Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison on Thursday in a 2019 criminal defamation case over his remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surname by a court in Gujarat’s Surat. However, he was granted bail and his sentence was suspended for 30 days to let him appeal the decision.
The case was filed against Mr Gandhi by BJP MLA and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi for saying “How come all thieves have the common surname 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, targetting PM Modi over his last name which he shares with fugitive businessmen Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi.
In his first comment after the verdict, Mr Gandhi quoted Mahatma Gandhi, tweeting in Hindi, “My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God, non-violence the means to get it.”
His sister and Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted, “Scared rulers are pulling out all stops to suppress the voice of @RahulGandhi ji. My brother has never been afraid, nor will he ever be. He will continue to speak the truth. Will continue to raise the voice of the people of the country. The power of truth and the love of crores of countrymen are with him.”
Mr Gandhi arrived in Surat earlier in the day for the verdict and was received by top leaders of the Congress’s Gujarat unit.
Supporters and members of the party turned out at various spots in the city as a show of strength and support for Mr Gandhi, with posters extolling him as ‘Sher-e-Hindustan’ (Lion of India) and placards declaring that the “Congress will not bow before the dictatorship of the BJP” on display.
Following the conviction, Mr Gandhi earned a rare show of support from Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) boss Arvind Kejriwal, who tweeted he “disagreed” with the verdict.
“A conspiracy is being hatched to eliminate non-BJP leaders and parties by prosecuting them. We have differences with the 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,” he wrote.
The court of Chief Judicial Magistrate HH Varma had last week concluded hearing final arguments from both sides and said it was ready to pronounce its judgment in the four-year-old defamation case, Mr Gandhi’s lawyer Kirit Panwala had said.
“Truth is put to test and is harassed, but truth alone prevails. Several false cases have been filed against Gandhi, but he will emerge from all these. We will get justice,” said senior Congress leader and MLA Arjun Modhwadia on Thursday.
Mr Gandhi had last appeared before the Surat court in the case, in October 2021 to record his statement.
In his complaint, BJP MLA Purnesh Modi alleged that Mr Gandhi, while addressing the poll rally in 2019, defamed the entire Modi community.
Purnesh Modi was a minister in the first tenure of the Bhupendra Patel government. He was re-elected from the Surat West Assembly seat in the December elections.
Mr Gandhi’s lawyer has argued the court proceedings were “flawed” from the beginning. The lawyer also argued that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and not MLA Purnesh Modi, should have been the complainant in the case because the PM was the main target of Gandhi’s speech.