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Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said that his political opponents were out to silence him and the defamation case filed against him in Surat was just one more example of this.

The former party chief appeared before a magisterial court in Surat and pleaded not guilty in a criminal defamation case filed against him for his “why do all thieves share the Modi surname” remark, made the charge in a tweet. “I am in Surat today to appear in a defamation case filed against me by my political opponents, desperate to silence me. I am grateful for the love & support of the Congress workers who have gathered here to express their solidarity with me,” he tweeted. He appeared before the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate B H Kapadia and pleaded not guilty when asked by the court whether he accept the charges, levelled against him by BJP legislator from Surat-West, Purnesh Modi.

At a election rally in Kolar in April this year in the run up to the Lok sabha polls,  Gandhi had said, “Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi… How come all thieves have Modi as common surname?” This prompted the local BJP MLA Purnesh Modi to file a case, saying that the Congress leader had defamed the entire Modi community with his statement.

Today, after Gandhi’s plea was recorded, his lawyers moved an application seeking a permanent exemption from personal appearance in the next hearings. After Modi’s lawyers raised objection to the exemption plea, the court said it will decide on the plea on December 10.

The court said Gandhi is not required to remain present during the next hearing on that date.

During the last hearing in July, the court had granted Gandhi exemption from personal appearance for that hearing and fixed October 10 as the next date of hearing. In his complaint, the BJP legislator had alleged the Congress leader that he defamed the entire Modi community with his remarks, made during the Lok Sabha campaign this year.

—India Legal Bureau

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