Congress leader Rahul Gandhi today appeared before a court in Gujarat's Surat city on Thursday as the verdict is expected in a 2019 criminal defamation case filed against him over his "Modi surname" remarks, party leaders said on Wednesday.
Senior state Congress leaders, including GPCC president Jagdish Thakor, legislature party leader Amit Chavda, AICC in-charge of Gujarat Raghu Sharma and MLAs were in Surat to prepare for Gandhi's visit to the city.
The court of Chief Judicial Magistrate HH Varma had last week concluded hearing final arguments from both sides and set March 23 to pronounce its judgment in the four-year-old defamation case, Gandhi's lawyer Kirit Panwala said.
"Rahul Gandhi will remain present in the court (on Thursday) when it pronounces its judgment in the criminal defamation case against him. He has made it clear that we respect the court whatever its judgment. We will welcome our leader and show him our support. The Congress cannot be browbeaten with cases like these," said Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi.
Thakor said Gandhi will land in Surat at around 9 am to appear before the court.
In a tweet, the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) president asserted the party will not bow before the "dictatorship of BJP," and appealed to people to be present in a large number to welcome Gandhi.
What was the case about?
The case was filed against Gandhi for his alleged “how come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?” remarks on a complaint lodged by BJP MLA and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi. The Lok Sabha MP from Wayanad made the alleged remarks while addressing a rally at Kolar in Karnataka ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
In his complaint, BJP MLA Purnesh Modi alleged that Gandhi, while addressing the poll rally in 2019, defamed the entire Modi community by purportedly saying, "How come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?"
Modi was a minister in the first tenure of the Bhupendra Patel government. The ruling party legislator was re-elected from the Surat West Assembly seat in the December elections.
This will be the former Congress president's first visit to Gujarat after the conclusion of his Bharat Jodo Yatra in January.
Gandhi was in Gujarat last to campaign for the Congress for the December 2022 Assembly elections. The party won just 17 out of the total 182 seats, its worst poll performance since the formation of the state in 1960.
He had last appeared before the Surat court in the case, filed under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 499 and 500 (dealing with defamation), in October 2021 to record his statement. Before that, the Congress MP had appeared in the court to plead not guilty to charges levelled against him.
The final arguments resumed in the case last month after the Gujarat High Court vacated its stay on proceedings imposed on plea by the complainant demanding Gandhi's personal appearance.
The lawyer for the complainant argued that CDs and pen drive containing the materials on Gandhi's Kolar speech established that the Congress MP indeed made the Modi surname remarks, and his utterances defamed the community.
Gandhi's lawyer has argued that the court proceedings were "flawed" from the beginning as procedure laid down under section 202 of the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) was not followed. The CrPC section deals with postponement of issue of process.
The lawyer also argued that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and not MLA Purnesh Modi, should have been the complainant in the case because the PM was the main target of Gandhi's speech.
(With PTI Inputs)