Congress’ Rahul Gandhi and Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Subramanian Swamy today came out in unison to assail the criminal defamation law before the Supreme Court which said that lodging of cases for political speech and debates under the controversial provisions should be avoided.
“Political debates may not come under the definition of criminal offence for defamation,” a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant observed while hearing a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of section 499 and 500 of the IPC which deals with criminal defamation.
Swamy and Gandhi advanced their arguments on the issue by saying that the two provisions have an “inhibitive effect” on freedom of speech and expression, particularly political speech, rather they operate for the protection of reputation.
The two leaders, who have been charged with criminal defamation under section 499 and 500 of the IPC for their political speeches in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, contended that the colonial law enacted in the 19th century has become “unreasonable and arbitrary” in independent India and was continuing without debate or a test on its constitutionality.
Along with them, Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Admi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal, who is facing cases under the same provisions lodged by BJP’s Nitin Gadkari and others, has also challenged them and sought de-criminalisation of defamation law.
Their stand that defamation be treated as a “civil wrong” has been opposed by the Centre which has advocated retaining sectiond 499 and 500 in the IPC, saying that criminal defamation will work as deterrent against growing tendency to defame people through social media.
Leading the arguments against the Centre’s stand, Swamy said the two sections have been used as a tool by the state to settle political scores and referred his case lodged by Tamil Nadu Government to “harrass” him.
He said Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa herself did not file a case but the state was allegedly used to lodge the FIR.
“Jayalalithaa should have been in the witness box for cross-examination but here the state took the case,” he said, elaborating that the criminal defamation case against him was lodged for his statement in which he referred the names of the AIADMK chief, her close associate Sasikala and others including DMK’s T R Balu in connection with fishing boats.