Defamation case: Rahul Gandhi says conviction unsustainable; refuses to apologise, again

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has once again refused to apologise for his Modi surname remark that led to his disqualification as an MP but urged the Supreme Court to stay his conviction in the criminal defamation case stemming from his comment, asserting he is not guilty.

BJP leader and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi had filed a criminal defamation case against Gandhi in 2019 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 an affidavit filed before the top court, Gandhi said, Modi has in his reply used “slanderous” terms such as “arrogant” for him only because he has refused to apologise.

“Using the criminal process and the consequences under Representation of People Act to arm twist the Petitioner into apologising for no fault is gross abuse of the judicial process and ought not to be countenanced by this Court.

“The petitioner maintains and has always maintained that he is not guilty of offence and that the conviction is unsustainable and if he had to apologise and compound the offence, he would have done it much earlier,” Gandhi said in the affidavit.

Rahul Gandhi, who was disqualified as MP from Kerala’s Wayanad, submitted he has an “exceptional” case considering the offence was “trivial”, and the irreparable harm that accrues to him having been disqualified as a lawmaker.

“On the other hand, there is no prejudice caused at all to the complainant. It is therefore prayed for that the conviction of Rahul Gandhi be stayed, enabling him to participate in the ongoing sittings of the Lok Sabha and the sessions thereafter,” he said in the affidavit.

He claimed there is no community or “samaj” on record going by the name ‘Modi’ and hence, the offence of defaming Modi community as a whole does not arise.

“There is no Modi samaj or community established on record and there are only Modi Vanika Samaj or Modh Ghanchi Samaj existing … He (complainant) has also admitted that the Modi surname falls under various other castes. There is also the admission that Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi and Mehul Choksi all do not fall within the same caste,” the affidavit said.

Earlier, Purnesh Modi had sought the dismissal of Gandhi’s appeal against his conviction in the criminal defamation case, saying he has defamed all those bearing the Modi surname, particularly people belonging to the ‘Modh Vanik’ caste of Gujarat.

On June 21, the top court had sought responses from Modi and the state government on Gandhi’s appeal.

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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 two-year imprisonment for criminal defamation for the 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.

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