‘Judge overwhelmingly influenced by…’: What Rahul Gandhi said in his plea

Surat April 3 (Hindustan Times): Senior Congress Rahul Gandhi on Monday submitted to a sessions court in Surat that his conviction in the 2019 criminal defamation case was erroneous and patently perverse. Challenging the trial court’s verdict, Gandhi, who has been expelled from Lok Sabha following the suspended sentence of two years in prison, said in his petition that he was sentenced in a manner that would have attracted disqualification as a member of Parliament.

The complainant, BJP MLA Purnesh Modi, had accused Gandhi of defamation over a 2019 speech in which he asked, “Why do all thieves have Modi as their surname?” Gandhi then referred to three well-known and unrelated Modis in the speech: fugitive Indian diamond tycoon Nirav Modi, former IPL chairman Lalit Modi, and the prime minister.

Gandhi was convicted in the case on March 23 and was handed a two-year jail term by the court of chief judicial magistrate H H Varma. The magistrate’s court had granted him bail for 30 days to appeal the verdict but Gandhi was disqualified as a Lok Sabha member under provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Here’s what Rahul Gandhi told the sessions court:

Referring to the magistrate’s court view that he deserved to be awarded the highest punishment because of being a member of Parliament, Gandhi said he was treated harshly by the court at the stage of determination of sentence taking into account his position as a member of Parliament.

He said the trial judge was “overwhelmingly influenced” by the status of the applicant as a member of Parliament and “certainly presumed” that the award of maximum sentence of two years would entail disqualification.

“The judgment of conviction and order of sentence passed by the CJM (Chief Judicial Magistrate) is erroneous, patently perverse, in flagrant violation of principles of appreciation of evidence in criminal trial, illegal and unwarranted on the facts and circumstances of the case and on the evidence to substantiate the charge levelled against the appellant/accused,” said Gandhi in his petition in the sessions court.

The Congress leader said the far-reaching implications of the sentencing, i.e mandatory disqualification from Parliament, would have been in the knowledge of the trial court.

He said the excessive sentence was not only contrary to the law but was also unwarranted given the overriding political overtones in the present case.

Gandhi submitted that such disqualification entails the rejection of the mandate of the electorate on one hand and a huge burden on the exchequer on the other for holding bypoll.

The Congress leader said the defamation complainant is not maintainable as the complainant is not a person aggrieved and there is no determinate group of persons here to allege defamation. He maintained the trial court erred in believing the accused didn’t stop after allegations against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and industrialists Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Mehul Choksi and Vijay Mallya, and therefore he intended to defame all persons with the Modi surname.

The said sentence, “Why all thieves have surname Modi,” was spoken in connection with PM Modi, Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi, and not people with the “Modi” surname, according to the plea, and that there is no such thing as a definite Modi samaj or community on record. He said the complainant terms the Modh Vanik Samaj or Modh Gachi Samaj or Teli Gachi Samaj as Modi samaj, even when there is no documentary evidence on record that they are all part of the Modi samaj.

“There are Modis in every community. There is no organization of persons having the surname Modi. There is no particular group of Modis which is referred to in the impugned defamatory statement as distinguished from the rest of the Modis,” he said.

“Modis are 13 crores (in number), and all these people will not have a right to file the complaint because it is not an identifiable, definite, determinate group or collection of persons,” said the Congress leader.

(With PTI inputs)

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