Court orders Rahul Gandhi to jail for Modi comment

STORY: Supporters of Rahul Gandhi protested on Thursday (March 23) after a lower court in India sentenced the opposition leader to two years in jail on defamation charges.

The case was over a 2019 speech in which he referred to thieves as having the surname Modi - that of the Indian prime minister.

Gandhi will appeal against the order, but being jailed or disqualified from parliament would strike a blow to his Congress party ahead of a 2024 general election.

A vote Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party is expected to win.

Fifty-two-year-old Gandhi was present in the court, which gave him bail immediately and suspended the sentence for a month.

The judgment was passed by a magistrate's court in the city of Surat, in Modi's home state.

The case was brought by a Gujarat lawmaker from Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.

In the speech ahead of the last general election in 2019, Gandhi referred to the prime minister and two fugitive Indian businessmen, all surnamed Modi, while talking about alleged high-level corruption in the country.

Gandhi, a former Congress president who is currently an influential MP, told the court his comment was not against any community.

In Kolkata, Gandhi's supporters clashed with police, while dozens of opposition leaders stood in parliament chanting slogans against the sentence.

This was the reaction from the Congress party president Mallikarjun Kharge.

"We did have an inclination about the judgement, but we have full faith in the law and judiciary and we will fight according to the law."

Gandhi's once-dominant Congress controls less than 10% of the elected seats in parliament's lower house and lost badly to Modi's party in the last two general elections.