Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi will on Monday lodge an appeal against his conviction for defamation, his lawyer said, hoping to overturn a judgement that resulted in his expulsion from parliament a year before a general election is due.
Gandhi, 52, was found guilty of defamation last month in a case brought by a state lawmaker from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after comments Gandhi made in a 2019 speech were deemed to be insulting to the prime minister and other people surnamed Modi.
Gandhi, the scion of a dynasty that has given India three prime ministers, was granted bail and a two-year jail sentence was suspended for 30 days allowing him to appeal in a higher court.
“Gandhi will challenge the conviction order on multiple grounds,” his lawyer, Kirit Panwala, told Reuters in Surat city in the western state of Gujarat where the appeal will be heard.
Gandhi is at the centre of opposition politics and the main target of Modi’s BJP even though Gandhi’s Congress party is a shadow of its former self and the BJP looks set to dominate the next general election, due by the middle of next year.
Opposition politicians say his trial and his disqualification from parliament is the latest example of the government’s strong-arm tactics, following various investigations and legal troubles faced recently by some opposition members.
BJP leaders reject that and say Gandhi’s case represents the Congress party’s arrogance and its readiness to hurt sections of society to settle political scores with the prime minister.
Gandhi’s conviction hinged on a comment he made while campaigning ahead of the last general election, in which Modi swept back to power, when he referred to two fugitive businessmen, both surnamed Modi and asked: “How come all thieves have the name Modi?”
The court ruled he had defamed everyone with that name but his lawyer said Gandhi had been referring to Modi and the two businessmen while talking about accusations of high-level corruption.
“The 2019 speech was not aimed at defaming millions of people having the surname Modi,” Panwala said.
He said the appeal would also highlight what he called procedural lapses in the trial.