Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury will stand trial

Mumbai: A day after he resigned as Congress president, Rahul Gandhi appeared before a metropolitan magistrate at Sewri on Thursday morning. Outside, a crowd of his party workers chanted slogans and waved flags. The parliamentarian from Wayanad was in town to attend a hearing in the defamation suit filed against him for making unacceptable remarks against the BJP and its ideological mentor, the RSS. Gandhi has been dragged to court by RSS worker and advocate Dhrutiman Joshi, who took exception to the leader’s statements pertaining to the murder of renown-ed journalist Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead in September 2017. He has alleged that Gandhi had linked the organisation with the murder by saying, ‘Anybody who speaks against the ideology of the BJP and RSS, is pressured, beaten, attacked and even killed’.

Having admitted Joshi's lawsuit, the metropolitan magistrate had, in February, issued summons to Gandhi and Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI). The duo obeyed the summons and appeared before the court and was later granted bail, on sureties of Rs 15,000 each. Dressed in his signature white kurta-pyjama, 49-year-old Gandhi was cool and composed as he appeared before Judge PI Mokashi. Upon being asked, Gandhi stepped into the witness box and pleaded not guilty and also agreed to face trial in the case.

The hearing went on for about 20 minutes and soon Gandhi was out, even as eager crowds of Congress party workers waited outside to catch a glimpse of him. The workers kept chanting, "Rahul Gandhi Zindabad, Rajinaama waapas lo, waapas lo" (Long live Rahul Gandhi, withdraw your resignation).

Addressing the media which waited for him outside the court premises and unmindful of being drenched in the rain, Gandhi said he would continue his ideological battle. This (battle) is going on since several years now. I am standing with the poor, the farmers in this ideological battle. I am being attacked continuously and I am enjoying it, Gandhi told the reporters.

The Congress leader further said he would continue to fight back and this time, with renewed vigour. ‘‘I have been fighting and will continue with my fight against this (ideology). This time I will fight back 10 times harder,’’ he said confidently.

Gandhi’s advocate Kushal Mor informed The Free Press Journal that his client was not required to attend the court for future hearings. The court will now conduct a trial by examining witnesses related to the case. ‘‘My client has pleaded not guilty and we will prove our innocence,’’ Mor said.

Meanwhile, CPI leader Yechury, who was also present in court, refused to comment on the case. A party worker stood surety for him while former parliamentarian Eknath Gaikwad did likewise for Gandhi. Just like Gandhi, the complainant Joshi too was firm that he has enough evidence to prove their guilt.

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