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Gandhi bailed in defamation case

LUCKNOW (AFP) – An Indian court yesterday bailed senior opposition leader Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case brought against him for referring to the home minister as an accused murderer – his latest legal travails ahead of national elections.

Critics have accused India’s government of using the justice system to target political rivals, with several opposition figures the subject of active criminal investigations.

Gandhi, 53, faces at least 10 other defamation cases and was briefly disqualified from Parliament last year after being convicted of criminal libel in an unrelated case.

He appeared in court in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh where his bail application was accepted, lawyer Santosh Pandey told reporters outside court.

Yesterday’s case stems from 2018 remarks in which he referred to Home Minister Amit Shah, a key confidante of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as a “murder accused”.

Shah was accused of ordering police to carry out the extrajudicial killing of a gangster in 2005 and two others while serving as home minister in Gujarat state.

He was jailed briefly before being acquitted of murder, extortion and kidnapping charges in 2014 after Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won that year’s elections in a landslide. The case against Gandhi was first lodged in 2018 by a ruling party official and has slowly been snaking its way through India’s glacial criminal justice system since.

Gandhi is the son, grandson and great-grandson of a dynasty of former Indian prime ministers, beginning with independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru.

He is one of the leading faces of an opposition alliance seeking to challenge Modi in this year’s general election, expected to begin in April. He was convicted last year of criminal libel and handed a two-year sentence, which was suspended by a higher court but raised concerns over democratic backsliding in the world’s most populous country.

Last week Gandhi’s Congress party said authorities had frozen its bank accounts after an investigation over its 2018-19 tax returns and issued a payment demand for INR2.1 billion (USD25.3 million) in relation to its probe.

India’s Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi waves to his supporters. PHOTO: AFP