Rahul Gandhi's conviction in the "Modi surname" case has been paused
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was granted bail today in a 2019 defamation case and his two-year jail sentence was paused until a decision on his appeal challenging his conviction. A Gujarat court will take up his appeal on April 13.
Mr Gandhi, accompanied by sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and several other Congress leaders including three Chief Ministers, approached Surat's sessions court with an appeal to set aside his conviction over his "Modi surname" comment seen to be an insult to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The former Congress president need not appear in court for the next hearing.
After the court order, Mr Gandhi tweeted he is fighting against "Mitrakal", alluding to the ruling BJP, often the target of the Congress over allegations of misusing government agencies to harass the opposition.
"This is a fight to save democracy, against 'Mitrakal'. In this struggle, truth is my weapon, and truth is my support," Mr Gandhi tweeted in Hindi.
If Mr Gandhi's conviction is not reversed, his disqualification as an MP will stand and he will be barred from contesting elections for eight years. He has already started packing after agreeing to vacate his government bungalow.
Mr Gandhi flew to Surat with a large group of Congress leaders. Chief ministers of three Congress-ruled states - Ashok Gehlot, Bhupesh Baghel and Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu - went with him.
He met his mother Sonia Gandhi yesterday before his court appearance.
The BJP called Mr Gandhi's visit to Surat with his sister and some party leaders as "a childish attempt" to pressure the judiciary.
"Rahul Gandhi might be going to Surat to file an appeal. It is not required of a convict to go personally to file an appeal. Generally, no convict goes personally. His going personally with a motley group of leaders and aides accompanying him is only a drama," Law Minister Kiren Rijiju tweeted.
"What Rahul Gandhi is doing is also a childish attempt to bring pressure on the appellate court. All courts in the country are immune from such tactics," he said in another tweet.
The Congress said the presence of the party leaders in Surat is not a "show of strength", but a "symbol of support" for Mr Gandhi.
"It's not a show of strength. He is fighting for the country. They are going with him to support him in his fight," said Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge.
The party also alleged that "illegal arrests" were being made to prevent party leaders and workers from going to Surat.
"There are continuous reports of illegal arrests by the BJP government in Gujarat to prevent Congress leaders and workers from going to Surat," party leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted in Hindi.
The 52-year-old was convicted by a court and sentenced to prison for two years in Gujarat last month for a 2019 speech in which he linked PM Modi's last name with two fugitive businessmen, remarking how the "thieves" shared the same last name.
The court, however, granted him bail for 30 days to appeal the verdict.
The defamation case was filed against Mr Gandhi by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi for saying "How come all thieves have the common surname Modi?"
Mr Gandhi's Wayanad seat in Kerala is now vacant following his removal from the office and the Election Commission may now announce a special election for the seat.
Mr Gandhi's disqualification order prompted a fractured opposition to come together to attack the BJP over the alleged misuse of central investigative agencies against the members of rival parties.
The BJP has said the conviction has come from an independent judiciary, with party president JP Nadda accusing Mr Gandhi of insulting an Other Backward Classes (OBC) community - a key vote base for the party.