By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2023-03-23 15:28:40
The outrage of the Congress at the sentencing of Rahul Gandhi in the so-called 'Modi surname' case is misplaced. Rahul Gandhi made a gross statement - he cannot claim immunity just because it was made during an election campaign. Not only did he allude that all thieves have Modi as their surname, he went on to add that let us see how many more thieves emerge with the surname Modi after Narendra Modi, Neerav Modi and Lalit Modi. It was insulting and defamed all those whose surname is Modi - and there are lakhs of Modis from Gujarat and Rajasthan who are spread all over the world. The worst part is that even though the defamation case was filed against him over the issue in 2019, in these four years Rahul Gandhi did not think fit to issue an unconditional apology to all the Modis he had insulted. There is no vendetta here nor is the BJP involved (except for the fact that the suit was filed by a BJP MLA whose surname is also Modi). Hence, the opposition will do well not to make it a political issue or claim that Rahul Gandhi is being victimized. He made a mistake and the law must take its own course. He has many legal options before him and will naturally explore them to the full.
But let us be clear about this - this is not a case of freedom of speech, it is a case of abominable behaviour where a person who aspires to be the prime minister of the nation abused an entire community of people whose surname is Modi. Rahul Gandhi cannot claim political immunity for this. If he had used the remarks in the context of Narendra Modi, Neerav Modi or Lalit Modi, he could have claimed political immunity as it was part of an election speech. But when he increased the scope of the remarks to include lakhs of faceless people whose surname is Modi and who might not have even stolen a few winks, let alone something valuable, he made a grievous mistake. The Surat court was right in saying that Rahul Gandhi had been warned by the Supreme Court (after he apologized in the contempt of court case for saying that the Supreme Court had confirmed Modi was chor when in fact the court had just given its verdict on the admissibility of some documents) to be careful with his statements but his conduct had not changed. It was also right in saying that senior political leaders and MPs are expected to set examples and since Rahul has not changed his ways, "lesser punishment will send the wrong message to the public and the purpose of defamation will not be achieved".