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 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 party in the state.
Supporters and members of the party assembled 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 Hindustan) 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 alleged “how come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?” remarks on a complaint lodged by BJP MLA and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi.
The Lok Sabha MP from Wayanad made the alleged remarks while addressing a rally at Kolar in Karnataka ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The court of Chief Judicial Magistrate HH Varma had last week concluded hearing final arguments from both sides and set March 23 to pronounce its judgment 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 by purportedly saying, “How come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?”
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.