NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today observed that Rahul Gandhi, who blamed RSS for an assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, should not have resorted to “collective denunciation” of an organization and will have to face trial in the defamation case against him if he does not express regret.
“We have held it may be historically correct but the factor the statement has to meet the test of a public good. You can’t make collective denunciation,” a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and R F Nariman said.
The bench said that “freedom is not crippled or curbed. What is curbed is freedom of speech. What the writers, politicians, critics or antagonists say, you must have the great magnitude to swallow.”
The bench questioned the speech made by Rahul and wondered “why he made a speech quoting wrong historical fact”.
The apex court said that they have applied their mind and Rahul Gandhi will have to face the trial in the case.
“What we have to see is the petitioner’s allegations come under Section 499 (defamation) of IPC or not. Judgment is already there. You have to face trial if you don’t express regret,” the bench said.
It also said “the purpose of law is not to convert people into litigants. The purpose of law is that people obey the law. Peace and harmony should prevail rather than chaos.”
Senior advocate Harin Raval, appearing for Rahul, said whatever was said in the speech was on the basis of government records and on the basis of a decision of Punjab and Haryana High Court and he was not referring to RSS directly.
The bench after perusing the judgment of Punjab and Haryana High Court said it only says that Nathuram Godse was an RSS worker and added that Godse killed Gandhi and RSS killed Gandhi are two different things.
“You have gone away ahead and you can’t make collective denunciation,” it said.
Justice Misra said that “history is the greatest enemy of privacy. Over the years, attempts have been made to enter into the lives of historically eminent personalities to give a new dimension.”
While quoting the recent order in a petition filed by DMDK leader and actor A Vijayakanth challenging the cases lodged against him and others in which the apex court has issued the notice to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, the bench said criticism of government is one thing and criticism of historical figure is another thing.
Raval then sought an adjournment for two weeks saying senior advocate Kapil Sibal will argue in the matter and he is not available today and also sought a liberty to file the rejoinder.
The bench, however, refused the request for adjournment and posted the matter for July 27 and said that no further adjournment will be granted in the case.
Rahul had earlier moved the Supreme Court in May last year for quashing the criminal defamation case lodged against him for his comments. The case is pending before a magisterial court in Bhiwandi in Maharashtra’s Thane district.
The apex court had granted interim stay on the proceedings of the case before the magisterial court.
Rahul had earlier refused to accept the apex court’s suggestion to express regret over his statement allegedly blaming RSS for Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination to close the defamation case against him, saying he will contest it.
The penal provisions make defamation an offense punishable by up to a two-year jail term.
It was alleged by Rajesh Kunte, secretary of Bhiwandi unit of RSS, that Rahul told an election rally at Sonale on March 6, 2015, that “RSS people killed Gandhiji”.
He has said the Congress leader had sought to tarnish the reputation of the Sangh through his speech.
Following the complaint, the magistrate’s court had initiated proceedings and issued the notice to Rahul directing him to appear before it. Rahul was summoned to appear before the trial court on January 6, this year.
The Congress leader then approached the High Court seeking exemption from appearance and quashing of the complaint.
The prosecution had opposed the petition and argued that Rahul can plead his case and lead evidence during a trial before the magistrate.
The High Court had dismissed the petition and refused to grant the stay on its order. It had allowed the Congress leader time to appeal against its order in the Supreme Court. He had moved the Supreme Court in May last year for quashing the criminal case lodged against him for his comments.