The Apex Court on Tuesday observed that Rahul Gandhi should not have resorted to collective denunciation of an organisation and will have to face trial in the defamation case against him if he does not express regret.
It may be mentioned that earlier Rahul Gandhi had blamed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for assassination of the father of nation Mahatma Gandhi. Besides, he had also refused to accept the apex court’s suggestion to express regret over his statement to close the defamation case against him, saying he will contest it.
A bench of Supreme Court comprising justices Dipak Misra and RF Nariman said, “We have held it may be historically correct but the fact or the statement has to meet the test of public good. You can’t make collective denunciation.”
The bench also added, “Freedom is not crippled or curbed. What is curbed is freedom of speech. What the writers, politicians, critics or antagonists say, you must have great magnitude to swallow.”
The bench questioned the speech made by Rahul Gandhi 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. Judgement 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. Purpose of law is that people obey law. Peace and harmony should prevail rather than chaos.”
Senior advocate Harin Raval, appearing for Gandhi, said whatever was said in the speech was on the basis of government records and on the basis of decision of Punjab and Haryana high court and he was not referring to RSS directly. The bench after perusing the judgement 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 a way 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 notice to Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa, the bench said criticism of government is one thing and criticism of historical figure is another thing.
Rahul Gandhi 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.
The prosecution had opposed the petition and argued that Gandhi can plead his case and lead evidence during trial before the magistrate. The high court had dismissed the petition and refused to grant 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.