Gandhi pleaded not guilty and his lawyer Kirit Panwala requested exemption from personal appearance in future. Chief judicial magistrate B H Kapadia accepted the application and said Gandhi need not be present for the next hearing on December 10.
At a campaign rally in Kolar, 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 said the Congress leader had defamed the entire Modi community with his statement.
Gandhi reached the Surat district court at 10.25 am, where several Congress leaders and lawyers met and greeted him. Several Congress leaders including Ahmed Patel, Rajiv Satav, GPCC president Amit Chavda, Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani, Surat city Congress President Babu Rayka, Senior Congress leader Kadir Pirzada and others were present in the courtroom. To the surprise of those present in court, Gandhi greeted complainant Purnesh Modi and his lawyer Hasmukh Lalwala with a handshake.
The room was flooded with people including lawyers and private persons. At 11.00 am, CJM Kapadia entered the room and seeing the crowd, he asked everyone other than advocates to leave.
Responding to questions of the judge, Rahul Gandhi identified himself, stated his age as 49 years and gave his residential address in Delhi. When the judge read complaint and allegations against him, Gandhi pleaded not guilty and said he would go ahead with the case proceedings.
When his lawyer Panwala submitted an application requesting permanent exemption from appearing for hearings, Modi’s lawyer Lalwala objected to it and submitted a counter application. Gandhi’s lawyer Kirit Panwala said, “The court has accepted our application of permanent exemption of appearing in the Surat court…The judge had also told that it is not necessary for Rahul Gandhi to remain present on 10th December.”
MLA Purnesh Modi said, “Our sentiments were hurt after Rahul Gandhi said that all thieves have the common
surname Modi, in a public meeting at Karnataka during lok sabha election campaign on 13th April. We have objected to the applications of permanent exemption of Rahul Gandhi appearance in the court. We will prepare detailed arguments on upcoming hearing fixed on 10th December.”
Earlier, when Gandhi arrived in the city on Thursday morning, he was given a grand welcome by Surat Congress members. On the 5 km route from the airport to the court, his convoy stopped at five junctions as Congress workers showered him with rose petals.
Police had made strict security arrangements for Gandhi’s visit. Many people with court business as well as lawyers were stopped at the main gate of the court building. A large number of Congress workers were also seen standing outside the court premises to get a glimpse of Gandhi.