Congress leader Rahul Gandhi appeared before a Surat court today to plead "not guilty" in connection with a defamation case filed after he allegedly said: "... all thieves have Modi as common surname" at an election rally in Karnataka ahead of Lok Sabha polls in April-May. Mr Gandhi also filed an application for permanent exemption from future court proceedings in this case. The court, which set December 10 as the date of reply to the application, also said Mr Gandhi was not required to be present in court for that hearing.
"I am in Surat today to appear in a defamation case filed against me by my political opponents, desperate to silence me. I am grateful for the love and support of the Congress workers who have gathered here to express their solidarity with me," Mr Gandhi, 49, tweeted this morning.
I am in Surat today to appear in a defamation case filed against me by my political opponents, desperate to silence me.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) October 10, 2019
I am grateful for the love & support of the Congress workers who have gathered here to express their solidarity with me. #SatyamevJayatepic.twitter.com/HZmAcEhciu
"He was summoned so he has come here. Let the law take its own course. We will see when the court takes a decision. Whatever the judge says will be done," Congress leader Ahmed Patel was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
A summons had been issued to Rahul Gandhi in May after a complaint was filed by a local BJP leader under sections of the Indian Penal Code that deal with criminal defamation. In his complaint, Purnesh Modi, the Surat (West) MLA alleged Mr Gandhi had defamed the Modi community with his remark.
"Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi... how come they all have Modi as common surname? How come all thieves have Modi as common surname?" Mr Gandhi asked the crowd at a rally in the state's Kolar district.
Mr Gandhi had been exempted from a previous court appearance in this case in July.
The Congress has come out in support of Mr Gandhi and his remarks, claiming his remarks had been directed at allegations of corruption against businessmen Lalit Modi and Nirav Modi and were meant to highlight the failure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bring them to justice.
"In a democracy, party in power should tolerate criticism of opposition. Rahulji had said Lalit Modi and Nirav Modi are thieves and Narendra Modi is a failure. BJP connected his statement to Modi community and insulted them," Shaktisinh Gohil, a Bihar Congress leader, was quoted by ANI.
The Congress party declared the case is a "transparent attempt to silence the truth".
"Such transparent attempts to silence the truth will never work, the fight against lies & hatred will always be strengthened by sincerity & love," the party tweeted.
Shri @RahulGandhi arrives at the District & Sessions court in Surat to appear in a defamation case filed by the BJP.— Congress (@INCIndia) October 10, 2019
Such transparent attempts to silence the truth will never work, the fight against lies & hatred will always be strengthened by sincerity & love. #SatyamevJayatepic.twitter.com/c8PZwQW5sq
Mr Gandhi has been kept busy with a string of defamation cases this year, including one filed in an Ahmadabad court by Ajay Patel, the Chairman of the Ahmadabad District Cooperative Bank, after he accused it of being involved in a scam to swap demonetised notes worth Rs 750 crore.
He is expected to appear in court in connection with that case on Friday.
A case has also been filed in another Ahmadabad court by a BJP leader who alleged Mr Gandhi made defamatory remarks against Home Minister Amit Shah.
The former Congress President, on April 23, had attacked Amit Shah citing an old murder case in which the BJP leader was discharged five years ago. He also levelled corruption allegations against Mr Shah's son, Jay Shah.
With input from PTI, ANI