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Courtroom convicts Rahul Gandhi to 2 years in jail for Modi defamation



NEW DELHI — An Indian court docket on Thursday sentenced Rahul Gandhi, chief of the biggest opposition social gathering, the Indian Nationwide Congress, and a scion of previous prime ministers, to 2 years’ imprisonment after he was discovered responsible of defaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a speech at a 2019 marketing campaign rally.

A court docket in Modi’s residence state of Gujarat introduced the conviction, then instantly suspended the jail sentence for 30 days, throughout which Gandhi can attraction. The defamation case was initially introduced in 2019 by Purnesh Modi, an area politician in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Social gathering (BJP), after Gandhi requested a crowd in southern India why two outstanding fugitive enterprise executives and the sitting prime minister all shared the Modi surname — and occurred to all be “thieves.”

The court docket resolution got here at a time when Gandhi, a member of Parliament and the face of the Congress social gathering, is dealing with escalating political and authorized peril as he dials up his criticism of the Modi authorities. If his attraction fails, he might be barred from contesting elections or holding workplace for six years.

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Prior to now week, police forces underneath the central authorities’s command arrived at Gandhi’s residence in New Delhi to query him over public remarks he made concerning the prevalence of sexual assault circumstances in India. The BJP has additionally demanded that Gandhi be suspended from Parliament as punishment for a speech he made in Britain through which he accused Modi of dismantling Indian democracy.

Responding to the court docket resolution Thursday, Congress vowed to attraction the judgment and mentioned the federal government was utilizing the police, investigative businesses and courts to persecute its political rivals.

“Rahul Gandhi is elevating his voice towards a dictator and exhibiting the braveness to name what’s unsuitable,” the social gathering mentioned in a tweet. “This dictator is rattled by braveness.”

The Aam Aadmi Social gathering (AAP), which controls Delhi and Punjab state and competes vigorously with the Congress social gathering to turn into India’s foremost opposition social gathering, referred to as the court docket resolution a “conspiracy” to squash dissent.

“Opposition kinds [the] core of democracy. Dissent shouldn’t be stifled,” AAP spokesman Raghav Chadha tweeted. “Try to scale back this to [the] viewpoint of 1 ideology, one social gathering, one chief is unconstitutional & undemocratic.”

BJP officers, in the meantime, doubled down, saying Gandhi had defamed not solely Modi however lower-caste residents extra broadly. In India, surnames typically denote an individual’s caste or neighborhood, and Modi belongs to the Modh-Ghanchi neighborhood, who’re historically small-business homeowners.

The BJP typically contrasts Modi’s modest upbringing with Gandhi’s privileged background — he’s the grandson of former prime minister Indira Gandhi and great-grandson of India’s first chief, Jawaharlal Nehru — as a part of its political messaging.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, a senior BJP lawmaker, mentioned Thursday that Gandhi was being appropriately punished for voicing “caste-related abuses.”

“The legislation of India has it that if a person or a corporation has been defamed with scurrilous statements, scandalous feedback, abuses or any defamatory remarks, then she or he has a proper to hunt redress,” Prasad informed reporters.

In current weeks, critics of the Modi authorities have more and more discovered themselves underneath scrutiny by tax and legislation enforcement authorities.

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In February, Indian tax officers raided the BBC’s places of work in New Delhi and Mumbai after the broadcaster aired a vital documentary about Modi on British airwaves — however not in India. Days after that, a Congress social gathering spokesman was arrested by police underneath orders from BJP officers for making a sarcastic comment suggesting that Modi was so beholden to the Indian tycoon Gautam Adani that he was the billionaire’s son.

Gandhi himself turned the main focus of the BJP’s ire after he departed late final month for a 10-day go to to Britain.

In a string of appearances at Cambridge College, the Chatham Home assume tank and the British Parliament, Gandhi informed audiences that the Indian authorities was undermining the free press, abetting assaults on minorities and surveilling opposition figures utilizing subtle spyware and adware. But the US and Europe, the “so-called defenders of democracy,” had been apparently “oblivious” to how one of many world’s most necessary democracies was unraveling, Gandhi mentioned as he chided Western leaders for his or her reluctance to criticize the Indian authorities.

Again residence, BJP officers construed Gandhi’s remarks as an attraction for Western intervention in Indian politics and warned he would pay a worth. Days after he returned, police repeatedly visited Gandhi’s residence to inquire about his feedback about sexual violence in India, which Congress mentioned amounted to harassment by the state. Final week, BJP lawmakers requested the parliamentary speaker to droop Gandhi from the legislative physique.

“We gained’t enable anti-India forces to destroy India’s picture and our wealthy democratic legacies,” mentioned Modi’s legislation minister, Kiren Rijiju. “India won’t ever forgive [Gandhi] and his total gang members who intentionally labored to tarnish the virtuous picture of India.”


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