A Surat sessions court has set April 20 as the date when it will pronounce its order on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s plea for a stay to his conviction in a criminal defamation case filed by a BJP legislator over Mr. Gandhi’s remark about the “Modi surname” during the campaign for the last parliamentary election.
Additional sessions judge R.P. Mogera heard arguments from both sides on Thursday and posted the matter for April 20 to pronounce his order.
Arguing for Mr. Gandhi, his lawyer R.S. Cheema contended that the trial in the defamation case over the Congress leader’s “Modi surname” remark was “not fair” and that there was no need for maximum punishment in the case.
Earlier on March 23, a metropolitan magistrate’s court had sentenced the former Congress president to two years in jail after holding him guilty for his remark, “How come all thieves have Modi as the common surname”, made during an election rally in Karnataka in 2019.
Following his conviction and sentencing for two years, Mr. Gandhi was disqualified as a member of Parliament from the Lok Sabha. He was also served notice to vacate his official bungalow in the national capital, allotted to him as a member of Parliament.
‘Out of context’
Mr. Cheema said that the magisterial court should have heard Mr. Gandhi’s entire speech, which he claimed was not defamatory, arguing that it was quoted out of context to make a case for defamation. He added that the judgement delivered by the magistrate was “strange”, because the magisterial court “made a hotchpotch of all the evidence on record.”
“It was not a fair trial. The entire case was based on electronic evidence, wherein I made a speech during elections and a person sitting 100 km away filed a complaint after watching that in the news. There was no need for maximum punishment in this case,” he contended.
“If someone says you Punjabis are quarrelsome and abusive, etc., then can I go and file a defamation case? Such words are often used for Gujaratis, other linguistic groups, religious entities, etc.” Mr. Gandhi’s advocate told the court, emphasising that there was no defamation case made out in the first place.
BJP legislator Purnesh Modi, the original complainant, filed a reply in the court, calling Mr. Gandhi a “repetitive offender” and opposing any stay on the conviction.
Mr. Cheema submitted that the complainant wrongly attached the Supreme Court case in which Mr. Gandhi had tendered an unconditional apology regarding the controversy over the Rafale contempt case. According to Mr. Cheema, his client’s apology to the Supreme Court for his “Chowkidar chor hai” comment was in November 2019, while the “Modi surname” comment was made in April 2019.
“So how can the judge rely on the proceedings where the complainant has said I was admonished by the top court?” Mr. Cheema contended.
Advocate Harshit Toliya for the complainant said that his client was hurt by Mr. Gandhi’s speech and therefore he came to the court.
“In his speech, Rahul Gandhi spoke about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But he didn’t stop there and went beyond it. He then said, “Saare choron ke naam Modi hi kyu hai? Dhoondho aur bhi Modi milenge (Why do all thieves have the Modi surname? If you search, you will find more such Modis). My client was hurt by this part of the speech and thus the complaint,” he submitted during the hearing on Thursday.
He also contended that Mr. Gandhi had refused to apologise before the court, adding that he was facing a similar case elsewhere as well.