Surat: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who had been abroad for few days, on Thursday appeared before a magisterial court here and pleaded not guilty in a criminal defamation case filed against him for his "why do all thieves share Modi surname" remarks.
Gandhi appeared before the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate B H Kapadia and 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 permanent exemption from personal appearance. When Modi's lawyers raised objection to the exemption plea, the court said it will decide on the plea on December 10.
The court said Gandhi is not required to remain present during the next hearing on that date.
In a tweet, the Congress leader 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".
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 alleged that the Congress leader had defamed the entire Modi community with his statement.
The Congress leader is scheduled to attend another court hearing in Ahmedabad on Friday in a similar case filed against him by RSS/BJP workers.
Gandhi, who has faced flak for going abroad ahead of assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra on October 21, will also be addressing public rallies in the two states.
The Congress leader will address election meetings in Maharashtra on October 13 and 15 and in Haryana on October 14.
The BJP has targeted Gandhi specifically over his foreign visits.
The Congress did not disclose where Gandhi had gone, but defended his visits saying there is a difference between public and private life and private life needs to be respected in politics.