India’s Rahul Gandhi found guilty of defamation over Modi remark | Politics News

Case stems from a 2019 remark in which the opposition leader asked why ‘all thieves have Modi as (their) common surname’.

A court in western India has found opposition leader Rahul Gandhi guilty of defamation for a speech he made in 2019 in which he referred to thieves as having the surname Modi, and sentenced him to two years in prison.

Gandhi was present on Thursday at the court in Surat, a city in Gujarat, which is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state. He was given bail and the sentence was suspended for 30 days.

The criminal defamation case was filed against Gandhi by a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after a speech during the 2019 general election in which he referred to the surname Modi and asked how all thieves had the surname.

“The court has found Rahul Gandhi’s comment to be defamatory. The court found him guilty under IPC section 499 read with 500. He has been sentenced to two years in jail,” said Ketan Reshamwala, an advocate for complainant Purnesh Modi.

Gandhi said in court that he had made the comment to highlight corruption and not against any community. “Truth is my god,” he tweeted after the court verdict, quoting India’s iconic freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi. The two are not related.

Gandhi’s lawyer B M Mangukiya said his client had not meant to insult anyone.

“When the magistrate asked Gandhi what he had to say in his defence, the Congress leader said that he was fighting to expose corruption in the country,” Mangukiya told reporters outside the court. “His comments were not meant to hurt or insult any community.”

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge also took to Twitter to say Gandhi and the opposition were “exposing” the “dark deeds” of the Modi-led government.

“We will appeal in the higher court,” he said of Gandhi’s sentence.

Modi’s government has been widely accused of using the defamation law to target and silence critics. Gandhi faces at least two other defamation cases elsewhere in the country, media reports said.

Gandhi is also on bail in another money laundering case that has been snaking its way through India’s glacial legal system for more than a decade. He denies any financial impropriety.

Gandhi, 52, is one of India’s main opposition leaders who will take on Modi when he seeks his third term as prime minister in 2024.

The Congress party ruled for decades after its founders led India to independence from British colonial rule in 1947. But its fortunes have declined precipitously since the BJP easily defeated it in the general elections of 2014 and 2019.

Gandhi’s Congress controls less than 10 percent of the elected seats in parliament’s lower house.

Modi remains India’s most popular politician by a substantial margin and is widely expected to win a third victory at the next general election in 2024.

Gandhi has repeatedly attacked the BJP and its ideological mentor – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a far-right Hindu supremacist organisation – for dividing India, officially a secular nation, along the lines of religion and language.

The BJP has been accused of running an anti-Muslim agenda, with increasing attacks against the community since Modi became prime minister in 2014. Dozens of Muslims have been lynched in the past eight years amid rising Islamophobia. The BJP denies the charges.

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