"Why do all these thieves have Modi as their surname?"
Rahul Gandhi, a senior leader of the Congress Party, has been sentenced to two years in prison after he was found guilty of defamation.
The conviction is in relation to a 2019 speech in which he referred to thieves as having the surname Modi.
The judgement was passed by a court in Surat, Gujarat.
Gandhi’s party said he will appeal against the order in a higher court.
An adviser to the federal government, Kanchan Gupta, said Gandhi could face immediate disqualification as a member of parliament in line with a 2013 order of India’s highest court.
Gandhi is a member of the lower house of parliament.
Ketan Reshamwala, an advocate for complainant Purnesh Modi, said:
“The court has found Rahul Gandhi’s comment to be defamatory.
“He has been sentenced to two years in jail.”
Gandhi was released on bail and the sentence was suspended for a month.
During a speech in 2019, Rahul Gandhi referred to the Prime Minister and two Indian businessmen, all with the Modi surname, while talking about alleged high-level corruption in the country.
He had said: “Why do all these thieves have Modi as their surname? Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi.”
On March 23, 2023, Gandhi told the court that his comment was not against any community.
According to Gandhi’s party, the case against him was brought by a “cowardly and dictatorial” BJP government because he was “exposing their dark deeds”.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said:
“The Modi government is a victim of political bankruptcy. We will appeal in the higher court.”
Kanchan Gupta said that Gandhi faced immediate disqualification as a lawmaker.
He said: “In a democracy, nobody, absolutely nobody is above the law.
“All are equal. The law, therefore, equally applies to Rahul Gandhi.”
Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said the party had “all legal recourse available to us and we will use them”.
She said: “Hopefully, the law of the land will prevail.”
Gandhi won support from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that rules Delhi and two of whose top leaders are in jail on what they call trumped-up charges.
AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted:
“A conspiracy is being hatched to eliminate non-BJP leaders and parties by prosecuting them.”
“We have differences with the Congress, but it is not right to implicate Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case like this.
“It is the job of the public and the opposition to ask questions. We respect the court but disagree with the decision.”
The once-dominant Congress now controls less than 10% of the elected seats in parliament’s lower house and lost badly to the BJP in the last two general elections.
Modi remains India’s most popular politician by a substantial margin and is widely expected to win a third victory at the next general election in 2024.