On Tuesday, the Gujarat High Court denied interim relief to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a criminal defamation case related to his “Modi surname” remark. The court stated that it would pass its final order after the summer vacation. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Gandhi’s counsel, argued for “extreme urgency” and requested either an interim or final order, but the court refused.
The case stems from a 2019 incident in which Gandhi allegedly made derogatory remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi while campaigning in Wayanad, Kerala. The remarks were in response to Modi’s claim that Gandhi’s family used the surname “Gandhi” for political gain. Gandhi reportedly said, “My name is not Rahul Savarkar. It is Rahul Gandhi. I will never apologize for speaking the truth. I will die but never apologize for it.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) filed a complaint against Gandhi for his remarks, and a magistrate’s court in Surat found him guilty of criminal defamation in 2020. Gandhi appealed the decision in the Gujarat High Court, which stayed his sentence but did not grant him interim relief.
Singhvi argued that Gandhi’s conviction would cause irreparable harm to his political career and reputation. He claimed that Gandhi had merely exercised his right to free speech and criticized the ruling party’s policies. He further argued that Gandhi’s remarks did not amount to defamation under the law.
The prosecution, represented by Additional Solicitor General Y.J. Dastoor, countered that Gandhi’s comments were a deliberate attempt to defame Modi and his family. Dastoor argued that Gandhi had falsely accused Modi of being a “thief” and had insulted the memory of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a freedom fighter and political leader whom many BJP members revere.
The court heard arguments from both sides over several months before deciding not to grant interim relief to Gandhi. The court also refused to comment on the merits of the case or Gandhi’s chances of success on appeal. It stated that it would deliver its final order after the summer vacation.
The decision is a setback for Gandhi and the Congress party, which has been struggling to regain power at the national level since its defeat in the 2014 and 2019 general elections. Gandhi is widely regarded as the party’s most prominent leader, and his conviction could harm the party’s prospects in future elections.
The case also raises questions about the limits of free speech in India and the use of criminal defamation laws to silence political opponents. Critics have accused the ruling BJP of using such laws to target journalists, activists, and opposition leaders who criticize the government.
The BJP has denied the allegations and defended the use of criminal defamation laws as a means to protect the reputation and dignity of public figures. The party has also accused Gandhi and the Congress of resorting to personal attacks and cheap political tactics instead of focusing on substantive issues.
The case is likely to remain a subject of intense political and legal debate in India, as well as a test of the country’s commitment to freedom of expression and the rule of law. It is unclear when the Gujarat High Court will deliver its final order, but the outcome is likely to have significant implications for the future of Indian politics.