Rahul Gandhi sentenced to 2 years imprisonment in “Modi surname” defamation case

This article covers the latest updates in the Rahul Gandhi v Purnesh Modi and what various political leaders and lawyers had to say. 

On Thursday, an Indian lower court sentenced opposition leader Rahul Gandhi to two years in prison on defamation charges stemming from a 2019 address in which he referred to thieves by the surname Modi.

Gandhi plans to challenge the ruling in a higher court, but Gandhi’s Congress party would suffer if he were to be imprisoned or stripped of his right to vote in the general election of 2024, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party is generally predicted to win.

A magistrate’s court in the Gujarat state capital of Surat—Modi’s hometown—issued the ruling. A Gujarat legislator from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party filed the lawsuit. (BJP).

Gandhi, the 52-year-old political heir to the Nehru-Gandhi family, was present when the Surat court quickly granted him bail and suspended the sentence for one month.

“Accused Rahul Gandhi is held guilty … and sentenced to two years simple imprisonment,” Harish Varma, the chief judicial magistrate of Surat, said in his order. Ketan Reshamwala, an attorney for Purnesh Modi, the complainant, stated that the court had deemed Gandhi’s remark to be defamatory.

According to Kanchan Gupta, a federal government adviser, Gandhi could be immediately expelled from parliament following the verdict, in accordance with a 2013 ruling by the nation’s highest court.

Abhishek Singhvi, a prominent lawyer, and spokesperson for the Congress stated at a press briefing that the party was concerned Gandhi might be disqualified. “The disqualification issue is dependent on the stay of conviction,” he said. 

“Any reasonable system, any reasonable, fair, non-oppressive, non-biased system would give sufficient time to a person to take some legal steps to stay the conviction,” he said.

In the speech ahead of the last general election in 2019, Gandhi referred to the prime minister and two fugitive Indian businessmen, all surnamed Modi while talking about alleged high-level corruption in the country. Gandhi, a powerful MP, and former Congress president told the court on Thursday that his remark was not directed at any particular group. Gandhi received support from Congress members, and numerous state organizations planned demonstrations for Friday and later in the day.

“The Modi government is a victim of political bankruptcy”, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said on Twitter. “We will appeal in the higher court.”

AAP supports Congress

Gandhi also received support from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that rules Delhi and two of whose top leaders are in jail on what they call trumped-up charges.

“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,” AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote on Twitter.

Gandhi’s formerly powerful Congress now holds less than 10% of the seats in the lower house of parliament and suffered crushing defeats to the BJP in the most recent two general elections.

By a wide margin, Modi continues to be the most well-liked politician in India, and polls indicate that he is likely to secure a third triumph in the upcoming election. Indian law also has provisions that define defamation as a criminal offense punishable by a jail term of up to two years, in contrast to many other countries where it is a civil offense.

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