New Delhi, Oct 10: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who returned from a brief foreign trip, appeared before a magisterial court to defend himself in a criminal defamation case filed against him for saying "why all thieves share the Modi surname" during the Lok Sabha poll campaign this year.
Gandhi appeared before the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate B H Kapadia and pleaded not guilty when asked by the court whether he accepts the charges, levelled against him by BJP legislator from Surat-West, Purnesh Modi.
After Gandhi's plea was recorded, his lawyers moved an application seeking a permanent exemption from personal appearance in the next hearings. After Modi's lawyers raised an objection to the exemption plea, the court said it will decide on the plea on December 10.
The court said Gandhi is not required to remain present during the next hearing on that date.
During the last hearing in July, the court had granted Gandhi exemption from personal appearance for that hearing and fixed October 10 as the next date of hearing.
Chief Judicial Magistrate B H Kapadia had in May issued summons to Gandhi after admitting a complaint filed by local BJP MLA Purnesh Modi under IPC sections 499 and 500, which deal with criminal defamation.
In his complaint, the BJP legislator from Surat-West had alleged the Congress leader had defamed the entire Modi community with his remark "how come all thieves have Modi as the common surname", made during the Lok Sabha campaign.
The court, while admitting the suit, had held that there was a prima facie case of criminal defamation against the Lok Sabha MP from Wayanad.
At a campaign rally at Kolar in Karnataka on April 13, Gandhi had reportedly said, "Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi... how come they all have Modi as a common surname? How come all thieves have Modi as a common surname?"
In his complaint, Purnesh Modi had said the Congress leader had defamed the entire Modi community with his statement.
Gandhi is also facing two other defamation suits in Ahmedabad -- one for calling Union Home Minister Amit Shah a "murder accused" and another for claiming that Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank, where Shah is a director, was involved in a "scam" scrapped currency notes with face value of Rs 750 crore were exchanged with valid bills within five days of demonetisation in 2016.
Though the next date of hearing in both these cases is October 11, lawyers claimed Gandhi's appearance in Ahmedabad courts may not be needed at this juncture.