Published on: 15 July 2023 at 17:10 IST
Rahul Gandhi, a prominent leader of the Indian National Congress, has approached the Supreme Court seeking relief after the Gujarat High Court declined to stay his conviction in a defamation case related to his “Modi Thieves” remark. Gandhi, known for his vocal criticism of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leaders, has challenged the High Court’s decision, asserting that it infringes upon his rights and stifles freedom of speech.
The controversy began in 2019 when Rahul Gandhi, during a public rally, used the phrase “Modi Thieves” while referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party members. The statement created a political storm, with the BJP and its supporters alleging that it was defamatory and tarnished the image of the Prime Minister and his party.
Subsequently, a defamation case was filed against Gandhi by a BJP member in Gujarat. In March 2022, a trial court in Ahmedabad found Gandhi guilty of defamation and sentenced him to two years of imprisonment, along with a fine. Gandhi appealed the decision before the Gujarat High Court, seeking a stay on his conviction pending the appeal process.
However, the Gujarat High Court, in its recent ruling, declined to grant Gandhi’s request for a stay on his conviction, stating that the case did not warrant such relief.
The court held that the statements made by Gandhi were indeed defamatory and that he must face the consequences of his words. This decision prompted Gandhi to approach the Supreme Court for intervention.
In his petition, Rahul Gandhi contends that his remark was made in the context of political discourse and criticism, protected under the right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Indian Constitution. He argues that the refusal to grant a stay on his conviction violates his fundamental rights and poses a threat to the principles of democracy.
Gandhi’s legal team asserts that the phrase “Modi Thieves” was used metaphorically to criticize the alleged corruption within the ruling party, without any intention to defame individuals personally.
They argue that political leaders should be open to scrutiny and criticism, as it is an essential aspect of a healthy democracy.