modi surname case

Court of Additional Sessions Judge, Surat: In an application preferred by Rahul Gandhi for stay on conviction in judgment and order dated 23-3-2023 wherein Surat Court sentenced Rahul Gandhi in defamation case under Sections 389 and 389(1) of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, Robin P. Mogera, Additional Sessions Judge dismissed the same while dealing with the contentions one by one regarding jurisdiction of the Trial Court, maintainability of complaint, irreparable damage due to disqualification from being a Member of Parliament, etc.

The Court looked into the catena of cases including Rama Narang v. Ramesh Narang, (1995) 2 SCC 513, Navjot Singh Sidhu v. State of Punjab, (2007) 2 SCC 574, and so on as relied upon by the parties regarding settled legal position on suspending the order of conviction. The Court framed a set of tests to be established and satisfied by the appellant as shown below:

  1. There should be a rare and exceptional case for grant of stay against conviction.

  2. There should be special and compelling circumstances in justifying the grant of stay against conviction.

  3. There should be irreversible consequences leading to injustice and irretrievable damages in the event of non-grant of stay against conviction.

  4. There should be no criminal antecedents barring the conviction in question.

  5. There should be prima-facie case on merits.

The Court considered the objection against maintainability of complaint before the Trial Court and the legal position of defamation against a community, class or group. The Court was careful about not getting into the facts of Modi surname remark but looked into the prima facie evidence and observations of the Trial Court reflecting derogatory remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and further comparison of persons with ‘Modi’ surname with thieves and complainant also having the same surname, who is an ex-Minister involved in public life. Thus, the Court refused to entertain the objections against maintainability of complaint.

Considering the challenge against proving the alleged speech, the Court upheld the evidence of eyewitnesses in the instant case. Regarding the question of jurisdiction and fair trial, the Court relied on Sunil Todi v. State of Gujarat, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1174 and Asr Systems (P) Ltd. v. Kimberly Clark Hygiene Products (P) Ltd., 2011 SCC OnLine Bom 394 and refused to accept the contention of lack of territorial jurisdiction.

The Court pointed out that Rahul Gandhi was not an ordinary person, but a sitting member of Parliament and any word spoken by him has a large impact on the common public and thus, a high standard of morality is expected from a person like him. The Court upheld the sentence inflicted by the Trial Court being permissible in law and rejected the claims depriving him of a fair trial.

The Court observed that the Trial Court’s judgment was well reasoned since it was passed after proper evaluation of evidence. The Court commented that any defamatory remarks coming from someone like Rahul Gandhi are sufficient to cause mental agony to aggrieved persons, and the instant case of comparing people with ‘Modi’ surname with thieves would have definitely caused mental agony and harmed the reputation of complainant being socially active and in public-dealing. The Court relied on Naranbhai Bhikhabhai Chauhan v. State of Gujarat, 2016 SCC OnLine Guj 7198 and rejected the claim of irreversible or irreparable loss or damage to Rahul Gandhi due to disqualification as Member of Parliament.

Hence, the Court dismissed the application preferred by Rahul Gandhi for staying conviction imposed by the Trial Court in Modi surname remark case through judgment and order dated 23-3-2023.

[Rahul Gandhi v. Purnesh Modi, 2023 SCC OnLine Dis Crt (Gujarat) 1, decided on 20-4-2023]

Judgment/Order by: Additional Sessions Judge Robin P. Mogera

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For Appellant: Senior Advocate R.S. Cheema, Advocate K.C. Panwala;

For Respondents: Advocate Harshit S. Tolia, Advocate Ketan P. Reshamwala, Public Prosecutor Nayan Sukhadwala.

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