Surat Sessions Court to pronounce judgment over Rahul Gandhi's plea against his conviction in 2019 defamation case on April 20. (Image: PTI)
A sessions court in Surat on Thursday said it would pronounce on April 20 the order on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's plea for a stay to his conviction in a criminal defamation case over his "Modi surname" remark, made exactly four years ago during a poll rally.
After hearing arguments from both sides, additional sessions judge R P Mogera said he will pronounce the order on April 20.
A metropolitan magistrate's court in Surat had on March 23 sentenced the Congress leader to two years in jail after holding him guilty for his remark "how come all thieves have Modi as the common surname", made during an election rally in 2019.
Gandhi, who was disqualified as Member of Parliament after the conviction, filed an appeal before the sessions court here against the verdict.
He also prayed for a stay to the conviction in the meantime.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Purnesh Modi, the complainant in the case, opposed Gandhi's plea for a stay in his reply, saying the Congress leader was a "repetitive offender".
On Thursday, Gandhi's lawyer senior advocate R S Cheema told sessions judge R P Mogera that the trial court need not have awarded the maximum punishment prescribed for the offence.
The magistrate's judgement was "strange" as he "made a hotchpotch of all the evidence on record", Cheema argued.
"It was not a fair trial. The entire case was based on electronic evidence, wherein I made a speech during elections and a person sitting 100 km away filed a complaint after watching that in the news....There was no need for maximum punishment in this case," he said.
The complainant wrongly attached Gandhi's unconditional apology to the Supreme Court (in the Rafale-related contempt case) to this case, the lawyer said.
Purnesh Modi's lawyer Harshit Toliya said his client felt offended because Gandhi had tried to defame all people with the Modi surname.
"He was the president of the second largest party at the time of making the speech. His speech made a huge impact on the people of India and he also tried to sensationalise his speech," advocate Toliya argued.
"In his speech, Rahul Gandhi spoke about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But he did not stop there and went beyond it. He said "Saare choron ke naam Modi hi kyu hai? Dhoondho, aur bhi Modi milenge (Why all thieves have the Modi surname? If you search, you will find more Modis)." My client was hurt by this part of the speech and thus the complaint," the lawyer added.
Gandhi also refused to apologise for his remarks, he pointed out.
The Congress leader was also facing defamation cases elsewhere and had been making such defamatory statements despite tendering an unconditional apology in the Supreme Court in the past, Modi's lawyer said.
Gandhi, who was the MP from Wayanad in Kerala, was disqualified as legislator following the conviction.
He made the controversial "Modi surname" remark at a rally at Kolar in Karnataka on April 13, 2019, during the Lok Sabha elections campaign.
On Gandhi's lawyer's argument about jurisdiction (as the speech had been made in Karnataka), advocate Toliya said no objection was raised on this issue during the trial.
"What is so special about this case? If a doctor is found guilty, the Medical Council acts against him. If a lawyer is caught for any wrongdoing, his license will be cancelled. Similarly, if a Member of Parliament is convicted, he will face disqualification. Everyone is equal before the law, be it an MP or a common citizen," said Toliya.
The court should show no leniency to him as despite being a senior leader of a political party Gandhi displayed ego and refused to tender apology for his comments, the lawyer added.