The Bombay High Court has granted interim relief to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, extending the deadline till August 2 for his appearance before a court in Mumbai in connection with a defamation complaint filed against him for his alleged remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018.
The complainant, who claims to be a Bharatiya Janata Party worker, argued that Gandhi’s “commander-in-thief” comment regarding the Rafale fighter jet deal constituted defamation.
Justice SV Kotwal, presiding over a single bench, adjourned the hearing on Gandhi’s plea challenging the summons issued by the local court in 2021, as requested by the complainant’s lawyer. “The interim relief previously granted will remain in effect until August 2,” Justice Kotwal declared.
Previously, the local court had directed Gandhi to appear before it in November 2021 in response to a defamation complaint filed by Mahesh Shrishrimal. Gandhi subsequently approached the High Court to challenge the summons.
In November 2021, the High Court instructed the magistrate to postpone the hearing on the defamation complaint, effectively relieving Gandhi from the obligation to appear before the magistrate. Since then, hearings on Gandhi’s plea have been adjourned periodically, and the interim relief has been extended.
The magistrate initiated criminal proceedings against Gandhi in August 2019. However, the Congress leader, in his petition before the High Court, claimed to have only learned about it in July 2021. According to the complaint, Gandhi made defamatory statements against PM Modi during a rally in Rajasthan in September 2018.
Four days later, he allegedly commented on a video on his personal Twitter account, stating, “The sad truth about India’s commander in thief.” The complainant alleged that Gandhi’s statement not only defamed Modi but also made a direct allegation of theft against all members of the BJP and Indian citizens associated with Modi.
In his petition, filed through advocate Kushal Mor, Gandhi argued that the complaint was a prime example of frivolous and vexatious litigation driven by the complainant’s hidden political agenda. The petition further contended that the complainant lacked the legal standing to file the complaint, as defamation claims can only be initiated by the person who has allegedly been defamed. Gandhi sought to have the magistrate’s order quashed and the proceedings stayed pending the hearing of his petition.
Rahul Gandhi was convicted in a criminal defamation case in Surat for his “Modi surname” remark and sentenced to two years in jail. This decision resulted in his disqualification as a Member of Parliament. Gandhi’s plea to stay his conviction is currently being heard by the Gujarat High Court.