The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi will have to face trial in a defamation case for saying that the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) assassinated Mahatma Gandhi unless he expresses regret.
You must face trial. Case must be decided on merits, whether what you spoke was for public good or not. You can't make wholesale denunciation of an organisation. Purpose of law is not to turn citizens into litigants, history is the biggest enemy of privacy," the apex court said.
The bench also questioned Rahul Gandhi about "why he made a speech quoting wrong historical fact." The apex court gave Rahul time till July 27 to detail his arguments. Rahul was sued for defamation by RSS member Rajesh Kunte, after he implicated that the organisation's members were responsible for Mahatma Gandhi's death. Rahul's counsel, senior advocate Harin Raval, said that the Congress leader did not refer to RSS directly, and what was said was based on Punjab and Haryana High Court's decision.
We have held it may be historically correct but the factor the statement has to meet the test of the public good. You can't make collective denunciation," a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and R F Nariman said.
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 added.
The Congress scion had petitioned the court to scrap the case against him.
In November 2015, the bench comprising justices Dipak Misra and PC Pant had suggested that the political leader settle the case by regretting the statement. However, Rahul's counsel had said that they would argue the case in court.
"RSS people killed Gandhiji and today their people (BJP) talk of him...They opposed Sardar Patel and Gandhiji," Rahul Gandhi had allegedly said during an election rally at Sonale in Maharashtra on March 6, according to Kunte, an RSS activist and secretary of Bhiwandi unit of RSS.
The case was taken up by the magistrate's court there, following which Rahul approached Mumbai High Court to seek exemption from appearing in court and quashing the case against him.
The high court had dismissed the petition and refused a stay on it. However, he was given time to appeal in the Supreme Court.
In May 2016, the Supreme Court also upheld that the criminal defamation laws, which were contested by Rahul, Subramanina Swamy and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, will remain. The apex court said that the laws were constitutionally valid.
RSS reacted to the Supreme Court's order on Tuesday.