Surat Court Defers Rahul Gandhi's Defamation Case Over 'Thieves Share Modi Surname' to December 10

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday appeared before a magisterial court and pleaded not guilty in a criminal defamation case filed against him for his "why do all thieves share the Modi surname" remarks.

Gandhi appeared before the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate B H Kapadia here and pleaded not guilty when asked by the court whether he accept 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 objection to the exemption plea, the court said it will decide on the plea on December 10.

Chief Judicial Magistrate BH 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.

During the last hearing in July, the court had granted Gandhi exemption from personal appearance, slating October 10 as the next date of hearing.

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 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 common surname? How come all thieves have Modi as 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.

Gandhi will also address public rallies for Maharashtra and Haryana elections, the party said. "Rahul Gandhi will address election meetings in Maharashtra on October 13 and 15 and in Haryana on October 14," the party said.

Gandhi, who recently returned from a personal trip, has faced flak for going abroad ahead of assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra, which will be held on October 21. The BJP has targeted Gandhi specifically over his foreign visits.

The Congress did not disclose where Gandhi had gone, but defended his visits saying there is a difference between public and private life and private life needs to be respected in politics.