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Modi operandi

Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi sentenced to 2 years in prison over Modi 'thieves' quip

A court in India's western Gujarat state sentenced opposition leader Rahul Gandhi to two years in prison on Thursday for a comment he made about the surname Modi at a 2019 political rally. Gujarat is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but the defamation lawsuit was brought by another member of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Purnesh Modi. The court suspended Gandhi's sentence for 30 days and released him on bail. Gandhi's Congress party said he will appeal the verdict. 

Gandhi made his Modi comment at an election rally in Karnataka state ahead of the 2019 general election, in which Modi's BJP crushed Gandhi's Congress party. "Tell me one thing," Gandhi said, after hitting Modi over corruption allegations: "Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi ... how come they all have Modi as common name? How come all the thieves have Modi as the common name?" Nirav Modi was a fugitive diamond tycoon and Lalit Modi the former head of the Indian Premier League, BBC News reports.

Purnesh Modi accused Gandhi of defaming everyone with the last name Modi. Gandhi's lawyers said there were procedural errors in the trial and argued that since the comment was about corruption and Narendra Modi, the prime minister should have been the one to file suit, not Purnesh Modi. Congress party president Mallikarjun Kharge tweeted after the verdict that Modi's government is "cowardly and dictatorial" and "a victim of political bankruptcy." 

Gandhi, whose once-dominant Congress party now holds fewer than 10 percent of the elected seats in the lower house of parliament, is expected to run against Modi when he seeks a third term in 2024. "Modi remains India's most popular politician by a substantial margin and is widely expected to win a third victory at the next general election," Reuters reports.