The Supreme Court on Friday (July 21) said that it will hear Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's plea against the Gujarat High Court in the 'Modi' surname defamation case on August 4. The Gujarat High Court had upheld Surat Court's order that Rahul Gandhi was guilty of defaming a community through his comments for remarks on "Modi" surname in Karnataka four years ago at an election rally in Karnataka's Kolar constituency in 2019, where the Congress leader had said that "all thieves have Modi surname."
The now disqualified parliamentarian was convicted by a Magistrate court in Surat on March 23 for his remarks. The defamation case againt Rahul was filed by a BJP MLA from Gujarat named Purnesh Modi.
The Supreme Court on Friday also issued notice to Gujarat government and BJP MLA and complainant in the case Purnesh Modi. The apex court will have to file his reply on the notice within 10 days.
The judgement by Surat court which was upheld by the Gujarat High Court had disqualified Rahul Gandhi as MP as he was given a 2-year jail term by the court. However, the Congress party and Rahul Gandhi went to the Supreme Court against the order and challenged it.
Supreme Court Bench that heard Rahul's plea
A Bench of Justices B R Gavai and Prashant Kumar Mishra fixed the next hearing on August 4. During the hearing Justice Gavai offered to recuse from the case citing the association of his father and brother with the Congress party. However, both the parties did not raise any objection to he hear the matter.
"Issue notice. Waive notice on behalf of respondent number 1. Mr Jethmalani for respondent 1 seeks 10 days time to file written submissions," the Court said.
The Supreme Court was hearing the appeal filed by the Congress leader and former Wayanad MP, challenging Gujarat High Court's refusal to stay the conviction and two-year jail term imposed on him by the Magistrate court in Gujarat.
Single-judge Justice Hemant Prachchhak had refused relief on July 7, stating that staying conviction is not a rule and the same must only be exercised in rare cases.
Rahul Gandhi's comments that led to a defamation case
Gandhi had, in an election speech in 2019 in Karnataka had linked Prime Minister Narendra Modi with fugitives like Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi. He had said, "Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi. How come all the thieves have 'Modi' as a common surname?"
The proceedings in the instant case arose after Purnesh Modi, a former BJP Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), had taken exception to the the remarks in question, claiming that Gandhi humiliated and defamed persons with the Modi surname. The magistrate court accepted the contention of Modi that by his speech, Gandhi has intentionally insulted the people with a 'Modi' surname.
Court's 168-page judgment against Rahul
In his 168-page judgment, Judge Hadirash Varma said that since Gandhi is a Member of Parliament (MP), whatever he says will have a greater impact. Thus, he should have exercised restraint, the Magistrate ruled. A sessions court in Surat had, on April 20, dismissed Gandhi's plea seeking suspension of his conviction by the Magistrate. Rahul then moved the High Court which too refused to extend relief to him leading to the present appeal before the top court.
Rahul approaching SC after HC's snub
In his plea before the apex court, Gandhi contended that the High Court "order has no parallel or precedent in the jurisprudence of the law of defamation in India".
As per the plea, an undefined amorphous group which, according to the complainant, consists of 13 crore people, has been held to be defamed. Gandhi further said that the entire approach of the High Court judgement has been to mischaracterize the one-line statement of the petitioner as 'very serious.'