BJP leader and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi on Monday sought the dismissal of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s appeal in the Supreme Court against his conviction in a criminal defamation case, saying he has defamed all those bearing the Modi surname, particularly people belonging to the ‘Modh Vanik’ caste of Gujarat.
Purnesh Modi had filed a criminal defamation case in 2019 against Gandhi over his “How come all thieves have Modi as the common surname?” remark made during an election rally in Kolar in Karnataka on April 13, 2019.
In his written reply to Gandhi’s appeal in the top court, Modi said, “It is a settled law that stay of conviction is granted in the rarest of rare cases for exceptional reasons. The Petitioner’s (Rahul Gandhi) case manifestly does not fall in that category. Moreover, it is respectfully submitted that the order of conviction of the Petitioner by the Trial Court is unimpeachable on the evidence-on-record.”
In his 21-page reply filed through advocate PS Sudheer, Modi said Gandhi, during his cross-examination, not merely failed to make any dent in the prosecution’s case, but practically admitted the defamation of all persons bearing the Modi surname.
The BJP leader added Gandhi’s attitude disentitles him to any relief in the form of stay of conviction as it “reveals arrogant entitlement, rank insensitivity to an offended community and contempt for the law”.
He said in view of the “overwhelming” evidence adduced before the trial court on which the conviction is based, there is no ground to stay the conviction.
The top court is scheduled to hear on August 4, Gandhi’s appeal challenging the Gujarat High Court’s July 7 verdict that declined to put on hold his conviction.
Modi said Gandhi “maliciously and recklessly” used scurrilous words against a large and totally blameless class of persons, of both common surname and common caste, who have caused no harm to the Congress leader.
“The statement was made out of personal hatred towards an elected Prime Minister of the country, and the extent of hatred was so great that the Petitioner was impelled to cast grossly defamatory aspersions on persons who incidentally bore the same surname as the Prime Minister.
“The offence for which the Petitioner has been convicted by the trial court is accordingly actuated by patent malice aforethought, and the Petitioner deserves no sympathy on the question of the sentence imposed,” he said.
Modi said Gandhi was the president of a national-level political party at the time of the offence and an MP.
“It behoves the Petitioner to set high standards of political discourse in the country, and even if he wishes to use slanderous language against the Prime Minister in his belief that such discourse is belief justified, there is no reason for him to brand as thieves an entire class of people just because they bear the same surname as the Prime Minister,” he said.
The BJP leader said the offence of defamation punishable under section 500 IPC, in any event, is an offence of moral turpitude and the defamation in the instant case is heinous in the extreme.
He said Gandhi has refused to apologise for his “malicious defamation” of all persons with the Modi surname/Modi sub-caste in Gujarat on the ground that he was a Gandhi and not a Savarkar (Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar).
“The Petitioner presumably wanted to suggest that a Gandhi will never apologise even if he/ she has for no justifiable reason slandered an entire class of people,” he said.
On June 21, the top court had sought responses from Modi and the state government on Gandhi’s appeal.
In his appeal filed on July 15, Gandhi has said if the July 7 judgment is not stayed, it would lead to throttling of free speech, expression, thought, and statement.
The Congress leader was disqualified as a Member of Parliament on March 24 after a Gujarat court convicted him and sentenced him to a two-year imprisonment on charges of criminal defamation for comments he made about the Modi surname.
The high court had dismissed his petition for a stay on conviction, observing that “purity in politics” is the need of the hour.
A stay on Gandhi’s conviction could have paved the way for his reinstatement as a Lok Sabha MP but he failed to get any relief from either the sessions court or the Gujarat High Court.