Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday appeared before a magisterial court in Surat in connection with a defamation case over his comment “Why do all thieves have Modi in their names” and pleaded not guilty in the defamation case. During the hearing, Rahul told the court that he did not regret his Modi thieves remark asserting that he did not say anything wrong.

The former Congress president also filed an application for permanent exemption in the case but the court fixed 10th December as the next date of hearing to reply to Rahul’s application. The Gandhi scion returned from a foreign trip on Wednesday and presented himself before the Surat Court in Ahmedabad today.

The Congress leader invited sharp criticism from the BJP and an FIR was lodged against him after he made an objectionable comment against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Modi community during his campaign for 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Local BJP MLA Purnesh Modi had filed an FIR against Rahul under Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC. In May, Chief Judicial Magistrate BH Kapadia issued summons to him after admitting a complaint filed by Purnesh Modi.

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Speaking on the defamation case filed against Rahul Gandhi, Gujarat Congress leader Ahmed Patel said Rahul was summoned by the court that’s why he has come to Surat. The law will take its own course and the Congress is waiting for the court’s decision, he added.

Congress spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil said the ruling party should tolerate the Opposition criticism since we are a democratic country. Rahul Gandhi had only said that Lalit Modi and Nirav Modi are thieves and Narendra Modi is a failure but the BJP connected his statement to Modi community and insulted them, Gohil added.

At a campaign rally at Kolar in Karnataka on 13 April, Gandhi had reportedly said, “Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi… how come they all have Modi as a common surname? How come all thieves have Modi as a common surname?”

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