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. He was also granted bail for 30 days and allowed to appeal the decision.
Mr Gandhi arrived in Surat earlier in the day 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.
The case was filed against Mr Gandhi for his saying “How come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?” 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, targetting PM Modi over his last name which he shares with fugitive businessmen Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi.
The court of Chief Judicial Magistrate HH Varma had last week concluded hearing final arguments from both sides and said it would pronounce its judgment today 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.