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Surat judge, who convicted Rahul Gandhi in defamation case, becomes district judge of Rajkot

Chief Judicial Magistrate of Surat, Hadirash H. Varma, who convicted Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in the 2019 defamation case and sentenced him to two years imprisonment, has been promoted as the district judge of Rajkot.

The CJM court had convicted Gandhi on March 23 this year, for allegedly saying that all thieves have Modi surname.

Addressing an election rally in Kolar district of Karnataka on April 13, 2019, the former MP from Wayanad constituency in Kerala had said, “Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi. How come all the thieves have ‘Modi’ as a common surname?”

Taking exception to the remark, former BJP MLA Purnesh Modi filed a case against Gandhi,  claiming that the Congress leader humiliated and defamed persons with the Modi surname.

The Magistrate court in Surat accepted the contention of Purnesh Modi that by his speech, Gandhi had intentionally insulted the people having the surname ‘Modi’.

In his 168-page judgment, CJM Varma observed that since Gandhi was a Member of Parliament (MP), he should have realised that whatever he said, was bound to have a ‘very wide impact’ on the public.

The judge held that Rahul had taken the reference of the surname of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi for satisfying his political greed, while insulting and defaming about 13 crore people living in the country having the surname ‘Modi.

The court further observed that if the accused was given a lesser punishment, it would send a wrong message to the public and the purpose of defamation law would not be fulfilled.

As per the Surat court, the Congress leader could have limited his speech to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choksi and Anil Ambani, but he “intentionally” made a statement that hurt individuals carrying the Modi surname, thereby committing criminal defamation.

It said Gandhi knew the impact his remark would have on the public as the speech was delivered during an election campaign.

The CJM convicted Rahul under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code for defamation and sentenced him to two years imprisonment. This led to his disqualification from the Lok Sabha.

The Surat court further mentioned the criminal contempt proceedings initiated against Gandhi by the Supreme Court in 2018 over his ‘chowkidaar chor hai’ remark, noting that the Apex Court had then asked him to ‘remain’ alert in the future after he tendered an unconditional apology. However, there seems to be no change in his conduct, CJM Varma had noted. 

The Counsel for Rahul said that he delivered the speech according to his duty in the interest of people, and that he did not discriminate against anybody but loved and cherished all people of the country. He further submitted that Rahul did not intend to insult anybody intentionally.

The Surat court further rejected the defence’s argument that the electronic evidence produced by the complainant in the form of CDs and a pen drive containing the controversial speech might have been tampered with. It noted that a mere allegation without any evidence cannot be accepted.

The High Court of Gujarat had reserved its orders on May 2 on the petition filed by Rahul Gandhi seeking a stay on his conviction in the defamation case.

The Single-Judge Bench of Justice Hemant Prachchhak refused to grant any interim protection to the Congress leader and said that the decision on whether a stay could be granted on his conviction would be delivered by the Bench after the High Court vacations.

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