The Supreme Court today stayed the proceedings against Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi in a criminal defamataion case before a trial court in Maharashtra for allegedly blaming Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
“There shall be stay of further proceedings in a case pending before the trial court till the next date of hearing,” a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and P C Pant said.
The case against Gandhi is pending before a magisterial court in Bhiwandi in Thane district of Maharashtra.
The apex court also issued notices to the Centre and an RSS activist who had filed the complaint seeking their reply within four weeks and posted the matter for hearing on July 8.
The bench tagged Rahul’s petition in which he has also challenged the constitutional validity of the panel provisions dealing with criminal defamation along with that of politicians of rival parities, BJP’s Subramanian Swamy and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
All of them have challenged the constitutional validity of sections 499 and 500 of IPC, which deal with defamation.
The bench made it clear that it will not go into the merits of any of the defamation cases filed against these persons and only examine the legality of the penal provisions.
“We are not going to touch upon the merits of these cases. We are not going to address merits in these cases. We are only on the constitutional validity of sections 499 and 500 of IPC,” the bench said.
Senior advocate P P Rao, who appeared for Rahul, sought stay of trial court proceedings by citing the previous order of the apex court on pleas of Swamy and Kejriwal.
Initially, some opposition was created by senior advocate M N Krishnamani, appearing for RSS activist, stating that advocates for Rahul were not handing over the copy of writ petition and also the Congress leader has filed an appeal against the Bombay High Court order of March 10 which declined to quash the defamation case filed against him.
He said that the matter was listed on May 11 and caveat was filed to pre-empt the ex-parte hearing on the SLP filed by Rahul.
However, the bench said it was not much concerned with the issue of filing of caveat as the basic case before it was the challenge to sections 499 and 500 of IPC on which similar petitions will come up for hearing in July.
The bench noted that there is already a stay on the proceedings in different trial courts in cases of defamation filed against Swamy and Kejriwal.
The apex court also said that two senior advocates, TR Andhyarujina and K Parasaran have agreed to assist the court as amicus curiae in the matter.
The bench also made it clear that it will examine the validity of the provisions keeping in mind the Constitution and would not be driven by the fact that many of the European countries have abrogated or abolished criminal defamation.
“We have to be guided by our Constitution and we have to be guided by Article 13( dealing with Laws inconsistent with or in derogation of fundamental rights)of the Constitution,” the bench said.
It was alleged by RSS activist Rajesh Kunte, secretary of Bhiwandi unit of RSS, that Rahul told an election rally at Sonale on March 6 that “RSS people killed Gandhiji”.
He 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 notice to Rahul directing him to appear before it.
The Congress leader then approached the High Court seeking exemption from appearance and quashing of the complaint.
Rahul’s lawyers argued that the complaint was motivated and malafide and deserved to be quashed.
They argued that no case was made out against Rahul and the criminal proceedings initiated against him were part of BJP’s election campaign.
The prosecution had opposed the petition and argued that Rahul 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.