Rahul Gandhi, the senior leader of India’s main opposition Congress party, has been convicted by a local court of defamation and sentenced to two years in jail after allegedly making offensive remarks in 2019 about prime minister Narendra Modi’s surname.
A court in the western city of Surat found Mr Gandhi guilty, but granted him bail and suspended the sentence for 30 days to allow him to appeal in a higher court, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported, quoting the Congress leader’s lawyer, Babu Mangukiya.
Mr Gandhi was present in court when the verdict was pronounced. The case was filed against Mr Gandhi for making a disparaging remark about the prime minister’s name at an election rally in the state of Karnataka, PTI reported. The complaint was lodged by leaders of Mr Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party, it added.
Following the court’s ruling, Mr Gandhi tweeted in Hindi a quote from India independence leader Mahatma Gandhi: “My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God, and non-violence the means to get it.” The Congress party said it would challenge the verdict in a higher court.
Kiren Rijiju, law and justice minister in Mr Modi’s cabinet, told reporters that Mr Gandhi’s remarks had caused harm to the Congress party and its leaders were worried that the party’s fortunes were sinking.
The conflict between India’s opposition and the ruling coalition has hardened in recent weeks in advance of national elections, which are about a year away. Separately, the Bharatiya Janata Party has heightened its attacks against Mr Gandhi after he said “democracy is under attack” in India during a recent trip to the UK. The Congress party has vociferously defended Mr Gandhi. – Bloomberg