Additional sessions judge Robin Mogera scheduled the hearing of Rahul’s appeal on April 13 and issued notice to the complainant, BJP MLA Purnesh Modi of Surat (West), asking him to respond to the legal challenge by April 10.
Rahul, who arrived at the sessions court with a busload of Congress biggies that included his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, three CMs – Ashok Gehlot, Bhupesh Baghel and Sukhvinder Sukhu – and as many Rajya Sabha MPs, is exempted from personal appearance during the hearing of his appeal, party member and lawyer Shaktisinh Gohil said.
Truth my weapon: Rahul after getting bail
Rahul Gandhi’s appeal in the court of the additional sessions judge of Surat comprised two parts – suspension of sentence, which basically translates into a plea for regular bail, and suspension of conviction. While convicting Rahul in criminal defamation case over his remarks on the Modi surname, the chief judicial magistrate’s court had suspended his two-year jail sentence for 30 days to enable him to appeal verdict in a higher court.
“The basis of Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from Parliament was the (two-year) sentence. Hence, our appeal to the court was to grant bail and stay the conviction (in which case the sentence automatically stands cancelled),” Congress member and lawyer Shaktisinh Gohil said.
Rahul Gandhi defamation case: Surat court grants bail to Rahul, next hearing on April 13
According to a PTI report, Rahul’s appeal terms his conviction “erroneous” and “patently perverse”, and that the trial court treated him “harshly” after being “overwhelmingly influenced” by his status as an MP.
“(A) parliamentarian in opposition is expected, or rather required, to be vigilant and critical, and the view of the trial court that a MP deserves to be awarded the highest punishment because of his status is wholly unwarranted and manifestly unjust,” the agency quoted him as saying in the plea.
“It is incumbent upon courts to focus on the essence and spirit of the speech (containing the Modi surname remark) rather than on the tone and tenor,” the appeal states.
As he had done on the day of his disqualification, Rahul declared on Twitter, “This is a fight against ‘mitrakaal’ and to save democracy. In this struggle, truth is my weapon and armour.”
CMs Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel and Himachal Pradesh’s Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu were beside Rahul along with Rajya Sabha MPs Digvijaya Singh, KC Venugopal and Anand Sharma, and several other Congress office-bearers.
The police allowed party workers and supporters to assemble along a few sections of Rahul’s route from the airport, but briefly detained those who tried to converge on the court premises from different parts of the city, south Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Navsari SP Karan Raj Vaghela said 87 people were detained, including 51 from Maharashtra, en route to Surat in at least a dozen vehicles. “They were released at 4pm. We detained them as a law-and-order precaution.”
Gujarat Congress chief Jagdish Thakore alleged that around 500 party members in central Gujarat and south Gujarat were under house arrest since 8pm on Sunday to prevent them from proceeding to Surat. Yashomati Thakur, Congress MLA from Teosa in Maharashtra, shared a video of her car being stopped by police in Navsari. She alleged in a tweet that her car was stopped twice after entering Gujarat.
Rajasthan CM Gehlot said, “If anyone resorts to violence, it’s unlawful. But everyone has the right to peaceful protest… BJP leaders are planning to run a campaign from April 6 over Rahul Gandhi’s comment and alleged insult to OBCs. I want to say there is only one OBC MLA in Rajasthan, and that is me. I have been made CM thrice by this party, and there cannot be any better example of respect to OBCs.”