Congress leader Rahul Gandhi appeared before a magisterial court on Thursday and pleaded not guilty in a criminal defamation case filed against him for his "why do all thieves share the Modi surname" remarks. Rahul pleaded not guilty when asked by the court whether he accepts the charges, levelled against him by BJP legislator from Surat-West, Purnesh Modi.
After Gandhi's plea was recorded, his lawyers moved an application seeking a permanent exemption from personal appearance in the next hearings.
The court further said it will decide on the plea on December 10. The court's statement came after Modi's lawyers raised an objection to the exemption plea.
The court said Gandhi is not required to remain present during the next hearing on that date.
Taking to Twitter, Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said, "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."
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 had defamed the entire Modi community with his remarks, made during the Lok Sabha campaign this year.
The court, while admitting the suit, had held that there was a prima facie case of criminal defamation against the Lok Sabha member from Wayanad.
At a campaign rally at Kolar in Karnataka on April 13, Gandhi had said, "Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi... how come they all have Modi as common surname? How come all thieves have Modi as common surname?"
In his complaint, Purnesh Modi had said the Congress leader had defamed the entire Modi community with his statement.
Gujarat Congress president Amit Chavda on Tuesday held a meeting with local party leaders in view of Gandhi's visit.