NEW DELHI -- After the massive hype and speculation trailing the Gandhis' first court appearance today, the actual event was somewhat of an anti-climax to its big buildup in the media and political circles over the past week.
Amidst high drama and heightened security, Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi decided to walk instead of driving into Patiala House to attend their hearing scheduled for 3:00 pm.
Surrounded by a scrum of security and reporters, Rahul smiled and Sonia waved just before they entered the courthouse.
But it took less than five minutes for the Gandhis to secure bail. The next hearing was scheduled for February 20, 2016.
"All this hype and hoopla by the press was unnecessary," Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who is representing the Gandhis along with Kapil Sibal, told reporters after the hearing.
The National Herald case is the result of a private complaint filed in 2012 by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy, who has accused the Gandhis of creating a shell company to acquire property worth Rs. 5000 crores belonging to the now defunct English-daily National Herald.
Along with the Gandhis, other senior Congress Party leaders, including Motilal Vora, Suman Dubey, Oscar Fernandes and Sam Pitroda, have been accused of cheating, misappropriation of funds, and criminal breach of trust. Except for Pitroda, who did not attend the hearing today because he is being treated in the United States for an ear infection, they all received bail.
The Congress Party has described the National Herald case as "malicious political vendetta" by the Modi government, and cast its top leaders as the victims in the entire episode. But Justice Sunil Gaur of the Delhi High Court, who refused to stay the summons against the first family of the Congress Party, found that the "modus operandi" of the transaction showed "criminal intent."
"Subramanian Swamy is a stooge of Narendra Modi," Randeep Singh Surjewala, spokesperson of the Congress Party, told reporters today.
Addressing the media after the hearing, Swamy said that he has never spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the National Herald case. "The facts are strong," he said.
After The Hearing
I will win this case in 2016, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi will get a prison sentence. - BJP leader Subramanian Swamy
These people will never remove us from our path. We are not afraid. - Congress President Sonia Gandhi
I respect the law. Modi ji thinks the opposition will bend because of false accusations. I and the Congress Party will not bend. - Congress Party Vice President Rahul Gandhi
The Congress Party is united. We will give a determined fight. - Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Inside the courtroom, Swamy asked for travel restrictions as a precondition for granting bail to the Gandhis. The judge, however, granted bail on payment of Rs50,000 bond and one surety. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave surety for Sonia Gandhi, and Priyanaka Gandhi Vadra stood surety for Rahul.
Court declines exemption from appearance and make all accused take bail at RS 50000 bond. Accused complied. Judge did not agree on travel— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) December 19, 2015
Singhvi told reporters that Swami's request for passport and travel restrictions, especially for those who have roots in Indian society, was "sad and unfortunate."
Swamy argued that the Gandhis were prone to leaving the country for 15 days at a time, but the judge decided that they were responsible persons who would not flee.
Swamy told reporters that the Gandhis were made to stand in a corner, assigned to the accused parties, and they were not allowed to sit. "I was quite satisfied the way everything went," he said. "I will lead evidence in February."
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