The BJP today doubled down on its attack on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi after he was convicted in a 2019 defamation case for his alleged remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surname.
BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad charged Mr Gandhi with insulting an entire community, and not just one surname, pointing to his alleged "how come all thieves have Modi as the common surname?" remarks at a 2019 pre-election rally in Karnataka.
"Modis are a community, not just a surname. They are sportsmen, politicians, doctors, and businessmen. If you brand a certain surname as thieves, then it is clearly defamatory. Rahul Gandhi said he believes in truth and nonviolence. Does believing in truth and nonviolence mean you will insult the people and give caste-related abuses?" he asked.
Earlier in the day, a court in Gujarat's Surat sentenced Mr Gandhi to two years in prison in the case, but also granted him bail to appeal its decision. The BJP has welcomed the verdict, which triggered widespread Congress protests.
In a prompt reaction, Mr Gandhi tweeted a Mahatma Gandhi quote: "My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God, non-violence the means to get it." In another tweet - a tribute to Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru - he said, "Holding the hem of truth and courage, fighting fearlessly for the country, we have learned from these brave sons of Mother India. Long live the revolution."
His sister and senior party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said Mr Gandhi will not be afraid and continue to "speak the truth".
"The entire machinery of the rattled regime is trying to suppress the voice of Rahul Gandhi by any and all means. My brother has never been afraid, nor will he ever be. He has lived by the truth and will continue speaking the truth. He will continue to raise the voice of the people of the country. The power of truth and the love of crores of countrymen are with him," said Ms Gandhi.
A war of words continued between the BJP and the Congress over the issue.
"We had an inkling of it from the way Rahul Gandhi was being repeatedly summoned. When BJP points a finger at others, four other fingers point at itself," Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge said.
Meanwhile, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh said it's a matter of concern that it becomes a defamation issue even if someone iterates the 'Modi' surname.
"This government is afraid of Rahul Gandhi, (Prime Minister) Modi is afraid of Rahul Gandhi. Every possible effort is being made to suppress him, whether inside or outside the House. There is a conspiracy to implicate him in fake cases. We knew this. For many months, there has been a conspiracy to dismiss Rahul Gandhi's House membership. The previous judge was transferred and new judges were appointed. The Modi government has been actively trying to tarnish the image of Rahul Gandhi," said Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal showed a rare support for the Congress, alleging a "conspiracy" to finish the Opposition.
"There is a conspiracy to finish the Opposition leaders and parties. There is a conspiracy to file cases against the leaders of non-BJP parties. I have differences with Rahul Gandhi, but trapping him in a defamation case is not right. I respect the court, but don't agree with the verdict," said Mr Kejriwal.
AAP minister Saurabh Bharadwaj said the central government wants to suppress all Opposition leaders who raise questions. On Arvind Kejriwal's show of support to Mr Gandhi, he said, "What Rahul Gandhi never did for Arvind Kejriwal, Mr Kejriwal is doing that for Mr Gandhi."
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said non-BJP governments and leaders are being made victims of conspiracies.
Meanwhile, BJP's Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Modi said he too had felt insulted due to Mr Gandhi's remarks. "I too had filed a case against Rahul Gandhi in a Patna court. I hope I will get justice," he said.
"One person does childish things repeatedly and gets slammed by the court. I think more cases will expose him in the future. Maturity comes with time. But despite being a four-time MP and a former Congress president, he does not understand what he should say and what he shouldn't," said BJP MP Dilip Ghosh.
The case against Mr Gandhi was filed after former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi lodged a complaint alleging his remarks at Kolar, Karnataka had defamed the entire Modi community.