SURAT: 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 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.
In his complaint, the BJP legislator had alleged the Congress leader had defamed the entire Modi community with his remarks, made during the Lok Sabha campaign this year.
The court, while admitting the suit, had held that there was a prima facie case of criminal defamation against the Lok Sabha member from Wayanad.
At a campaign rally at Kolar in Karnataka on April 13, Gandhi had 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.
Gujarat Congress president Amit Chavda on Tuesday held a meeting with local party leaders in view of Gandhi's visit.
Gandhi has on the other hand 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.
The former Congress chief also faced criticisms within the party, as senior leader and former Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid on Wednesday said there is nothing wrong in his comment that the biggest problem was that Rahul Gandhi walked away after party’s debacle in the general elections even as the party advised its leaders to refrain from making such statements ahead of assembly elections.
The comments come at a time when the party is facing an existential crisis, made worse by infighting in state units.
Elaborating his comments, Khurshid said he is pained by the state of the party at present and there is an immediate need to put the things in order.
“The party could have fared better in assembly elections if he (Rahul) would have stayed. I have very deep pain and concern about where we are today as a party. We won’t leave the party no matter what happens, we aren’t like those who got everything from the party and when things were difficult they left the party and walked away,” Khurshid said.
Emphasising that Sonia Gandhi should continue as full-time party chief, Khurshid said: “We have very less time and the party should take some immediate steps. The reason for some delay in those steps was because our leader Rahul Gandhi has left us. By this, I mean that he was our president and we wanted him to be on that seat for long.”
The Congress party asked its leaders to avoid making such comments and rather should put their act together to expose BJP’s failure on various issues.
“The party is working united to take on the BJP in Haryana and Maharashtra and leaders should avoid making such comments,” said party spokesperson Pawan Khera.
Another senior Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia too called for urgent introspection within the party.
"I don't comment on statements made by others, but it is true that the Congress is in dire need of introspection. The party's situation should be assessed and improved, that's the need of the hour," Scindia told media.
BJP also targeted Rahul over Khurshid’s comment, saying even the Congress leaders do not know where the Gandhi scion is at present.
(With ENS inputs)