TNS Explainer: Why Rahul Gandhi was awarded 2-year jail term and what's in the court verdict?

In an event that drawn a national significance, a court in Gujarat's Surat has on Thursday - March 23 awarded two-year prison sentence to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi after he was convicted in the charge of making a defaming remark about the 'Modi' surname. The case pretained to this remark made by Rahul Gandhi during an election campaign in 2019. 

In 2019, during the campaign trail of the Lok Sabha polls, Rahul Gandhi was addressing a rally at Kolar in Karnataka during which he said, "Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, and Narendra come they all have common surnames? How come all the thieves have 'Modi' as surnames?". As his remark gained traction, BJP MLA in Gujarat Purnesh Modi lodged a complaint against Rahul Gandhi. 

Purnesh Modi was a minister in the first tenure of the Bhupendra Patel government in Gujarat and he was re-elected from the Surat West Assembly seat in the 2022 December elections. In his complaint, Purnesh Modi claimed that Rahul Gandhi's remark has defamed the entire 'Modi' community. Based on his plaint, a criminal defamation case was filed against the Congress leader in Gujarat under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code.

Gandhi's remark was video graphed by the video surveillance team and the video viewing team was duly notified by the office of Deputy Commissioner and District Election Officer of Kolar district. The case reached the court in Surat and Rahul Gandhi's lawyer has held arguments that the court proceedings were flawed from the beginning and the lawyer had also made arguments that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and not MLA Purnesh Modi, should have been the complainant in the case because the Prime Minister was the main target of Rahul Gandhi's speech. 

Rahul Gandhi had kept his presence in the court and his final apperance in the court was in October 2021. Earlier this February, the Gujarat High Court had vacated the stay on trial in the criminal defamation case after which the final hearings were resumed. During his presence, Rahul Gandhi had maintained that there was no malafide intention on his part when he made the statement in 2019.

After the hearings and arguments were closed, the Surat court announced the verdict on the case on Thursday - March 23. Earlier in the day, Rahul Gandhi arrived in Surat and he was received by top leaders of the Congress's Gujarat unit. As he arrived in the state, the Congress supporters flanked Rahul Gandhi and they held placards declaring that the 'Congress will not bow before the dictatorship of the BJP'. 

The court proceedings were on the spotlight and the court bench led by Chief Judicial Magistrate HH Varma pronounced the verdict and said that Rahul Gandhi was found guilty to the charges under Section 499- Defamation and 500 - punishment for Defamation under IPC. As the maximum possible punishment under this section is two years, Rahul Gandhi was awarded two-year prison sentence and a fine of Rs 15,000. 

However, Rahul Gandhi has moved a bail plea and he was swiftly granted bail by the court. As the Congress leader has been conferred with a bail, his prison sentence has been suspended and the court has granted to enable Rahul Gandhi to move an appeal against the prison sentence within thirty days from today. As Gandhi will surely move an appeal, the verdict has sparked new political furore and friction between BJP and Congress. 

Reacting to the verdict, Congress leader and Gujarat MLA Arjun Modhwadia said, "Truth is put to test and is harassed, but truth alone prevails. Several false cases have been filed against Gandhi, but he will emerge from all these. We will get justice." Congress spokesperson Jairam Ramesh took to Twitter and wrote, "This is new India. If you raise your voice against injustice, then ED- CBI, Police, FIR will be imposed on everyone." 

"Rahul Gandhi Ji is also being punished for speaking the truth, for raising his voice against dictator. The law of the country gives an opportunity to appeal to Rahul Gandhi, he will execise this right. We are not afraid", Ramesh added. Chief Minister of Congress ruling Chattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel said, "There is an attempt to suppress the media, there is an attempt to influence the judiciary & they are taking action against the people of different political parties at this level." 

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said, "We keep saying our democracy is in danger as there is pressure on judiciary, ECI, ED & they're all misused. All decisions are made under influence. Such comments are common... Rahul Gandhi is a courageous man & only he can compete with NDA govt." Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said, "He has been granted bail. We knew from the beginning because they kept changing judges. We believe in law, judiciary and we will fight against this as per law."