AAP leader and Delhi minister Saurabh Bhardwaj hit out at the Centre over the jail sentence of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case, saying while the Congress leader's remark using the 'Modi' surname was wrong, it was unfair to single him out as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also commented on the Nehru surname.
Earlier, on Thursday, the Surat district court sentenced Rahul Gandhi to two years of imprisonment in a criminal defamation case filed against him for his alleged remark using the Modi surname at a campaign meeting in Karnataka for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The court later approved Rahul Gandhi's bail while suspending his sentence for a period of 30 days during which he can challenge his conviction in a higher court.
Weighing in on Rahul Gandhi's conviction and sentence, the AAP MLA said, "We have serious political differences with Rahul Gandhi and his party and they will remain going forward. However, we do oppose the way Opposition leaders are being implicated in false cases. The message that's going out loud and clear is that anyone questioning this government will be implicated in false cases."
"Defamation laws have been in vogue for years but weren't misused by previous governments to target Opposition leaders. They are not letting Opposition leaders speak. Their sole objective is to crush anyone who questions the central government. This can't be tolerated in a democracy. The divergence of voices is the cornerstone of democracy and one of the thumb rules of a democratic setup like ours is that the Opposition will raise questions. If the government of the day resorts to splitting hairs and filing a defamation suit in every case, that's not fair. The CBI and the ED are being used to get back at the Opposition. What we are seeing now is very similar to what happened during the Emergency," Mr Bhardwaj said.
"What Rahul-ji said using the Modi surname was wrong. But it's not fair to single him out as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also made a comment using the Nehru surname. He mocked the country's first Prime Minister. If two leaders make fun of each other's surnames and only one is punished, then that's not fair. I believe our political class should be more tolerant. It's not right for leaders to be jailed for minor offences," the AAP leader added.
"The BJP is setting the wrong precedent. If Opposition-ruled states, too, catch this trend, the BJP leaders would find it difficult to open their mouths. The BJP may be in power at the Centre today but tomorrow, it could be someone else," the AAP leader said.
Claiming that the Congress never stood up for the AAP when its leaders were targeted by the Centre, Mr Bhardwaj said, "Rising above political differences, Arvind Kejriwal is standing in support of Rahul Gandhi today. I am happy that Kejriwal-ji is doing what Rahul-ji never did."
Taking to Twitter earlier on Thursday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal posted, "There is a conspiracy to eliminate non-BJP leaders and parties by prosecuting them. We have differences with Congress, but it is not right to implicate Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case like this. It is the job of the public and the opposition to ask questions. We respect the court but disagree with the decision."
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)