Surat: A Surat court on Thursday sentenced Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to two years imprisonment in a defamation case filed against him over his ‘Modi surname’ remark with the Congress leaders rallying in his support. Rahul Gandhi had made the ‘how come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname’ remark in April, 2019, at a Lok Sabha election rally at Kolar in Karnataka.
The court approved Rahul Gandhi’s bail on a surety and stayed the sentence for 30 days to allow him to approach the higher courts. While the BJP leaders attacked Rahul Gandhi after the verdict saying whatever he speaks it affects the Congress party and the country in a negative way, Congress leaders said that an attempt was being made by the BJP government to suppress the voice of Rahul Gandhi and that he will move the higher courts against the verdict. Congress leaders also alleged that judiciary is under pressure.
Some Congress leaders, including party chief Mallikarjun Kharge , referred to change of judge in the case. Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi slammed the Congress leaders and said their remarks make it clear that they do not support the institutions of the country. ‘The reactions of leaders of Congress make it clear that they don’t respect the institutions of the country. This is quite evident that they have scant respect for the institutions and they are repeatedly showing it’, he said.
The minister said that court had repeatedly asked Rahul Gandhi if he wanted to apologise and accused him of being a habitual offender. ‘During the course of inquiry, Court asked him again and again if he will apologise. He refused. When the Court has pronounced the verdict, he is not apologetic. If you look at the precedent of Rahul Gandhi, he is a habitual offender’, he said. Hours after the verdict, Vineet Jindal, an activist and a Supreme Court lawyer, filed a complaint with Lok Sabha Speaker, seeking disqualification of Rahul Gandhi from the House following his conviction for two years.
The criminal defamation case against Rahul Gandhi was filed by BJP MLA from Surat West Purnesh Modi. Rahul Gandhi had in June last year faced questioning by the Enforcement Directorate over alleged corruption in the National Herald case. Former party chief Sonia Gandhi has also been questioned in the case. The two leaders were in granted bail in case by a Delhi court in December 2015.
Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother Indira Gandhi had also faced adverse court verdict and had been debarred from holding any elected post for six years following her conviction by the Allahabad High Court in June, 1975. The verdict is widely believed to have led to imposition of Emergency. While convicting Indira Gandhi of electoral malpractices, Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha disqualified her from Parliament and imposed a six-year ban on her holding any elected post.
Following appeal filed by Indira Gandhi, a vacation judge of the Supreme granted a conditional stay on Justice Sinha’s verdict allowing her to continue as Prime Minister. However, she was debarred from taking part in parliamentary proceedings and drawing salary as an MP. The Supreme Court later overturned her conviction in November 1975 during the Emergency. The Congress leaders had rallied in support of Indira Gandhi after the Allahbad court verdict. In the criminal defamation case in Surat, the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate HH Varma concluded hearing final arguments from both sides and set March 23 to pronounce its judgment in the four-year-old defamation case.
Rahul Gandhi, MP from Wayanad, was present inside the courtroom along with Congress leaders. Purnesh Modi, who is a former Gujarat Minister, welcomed the court judgement. ‘I welcome the judgement of the court’, he said. Ketan Reshamwala, Advocate for Purnesh Modi, said Rahul Gandhi has been convicted under Section 499 and 500 of IPC. ‘The sentence awarded is for two years and against that sentence, he has plead that he may be released on bail till appeal period and as per law, the Court has granted him bail for 30 days and until appeal, the sentence has been suspended by the Court’, Reshamwala said.
Rahul Gandhi’s conviction led to a war of words between the BJP and Congress. Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said that Rahul Gandhi damages his own party with his remarks. ‘I’ll see the details of the order before I say anything. Whatever Rahul Gandhi speaks it always affects Congress party and the entire nation in a negative way. Some Congress MPs told me that because of his attitude, Congress is suffering’, Rijiju said.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said that there is punishment for irrelevant accusations in the legal system. ‘Rahul Gandhi should accept this truth. Words are deadlier than weapons. There are provisions of punishment for those who level irrelevant accusations in the legal system. Congress MP Rahul Gandhi should take a lesson from this’, Rajnath Singh said.
BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said Rahul Gandhi claims that he believes in truth and non-violence and asked if the Congress leader has right to abuse people. ‘Rahul Gandhi said that he believes in truth and non-violence. Is insulting people and abusing them truth and non-violence? If Rahul Gandhi has the right to abuse people, then those who are hurt by his abuses also have the right to file a defamation case. The law of India is that if an individual or an organisation has been defamed by defamatory comments, abuses, then he has got the right to seek redress but Congress has an objection to it. They want complete freedom for Rahul Gandhi to utter abuses. There will be a rule of law in the country’, he said.
Congress leaders came out in support of Rahul Gandhi, attacked the government and said they will not come under any pressure. ‘He (Rahul Gandhi) has been granted bail. We knew from the beginning because they kept changing judges. We believe in law, judiciary and we will fight against this as per law’, Kharge said. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said there is an attempt to suppress the media, ‘There is an attempt to influence the judiciary. They (the BJP-led government) is taking action against the people of different political parties’, he said.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said the party has been saying that democracy is in danger as there is pressure on judiciary, Election Commission and Enforcement Directorate. ‘We keep saying our democracy is in danger as there is pressure on judiciary, ECI, ED & they’re all misused. All decisions are made under influence. Such comments are common… Rahul Gandhi is a courageous man and only he can compete with NDA government’, he said.
Rahul Gandhi did not comment on the verdict and made a tweet in Hindi quoting Mahatma Gandhi. ‘My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God, non-violence the means to get it- Mahatma Gandhi’, he said. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said her Rahul Gandhi is not afraid and will keep speaking the truth. ‘The entire scared machinery of power is trying to suppress the voice of Rahul Gandhi through ‘saam, daam, dand, bhed’. My brother has never been afraid, nor will he ever be. He has lived speaking the truth, will continue to speak the truth’, she said. Congress also held a press conference and said the Surat court judgement was erroneous.
As per Section 8 (3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, MP/MLA convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years shall be disqualified from the date of conviction, stated the complaint. Section 8(3) of the Act defines that any member MP/MLA convicted of any offense and sentenced to imprisonment for two or more years shall be disqualified from the date of conviction, from the definition of the above section of the act.
Vineet Jindal, who wrote to Speaker Om Biral, requested him to declare Rahul Gandhi as disqualified as a member of the Lok Sabha from immediate effect. Responding to a query about speculations around Congress Rahul Gandhi’s Lok Sabha membership after his conviction by Surat Court, Prahlad Joshi said ‘concerned people will examine it (Court order) legally and then we will give a reaction’.
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