Bhiwandi court frames charges against Rahul Gandhi in RSS defamation case; Congress chief pleads 'not guilty'

A court in Bhiwandi in Maharashtra's Thane district framed defamation charges against Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday in a criminal defamation case filed by RSS worker Rajesh Kunte.

According to ANI, the charges were framed under sections 499 (defamation) and 500 (punishment for defamation) of the Indian Penal Code. Rahul Gandhi pleaded not guilty. Under section 500, a person found guilty of defamation faces simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.  The court fixed August 10 as the next date of hearing, when the actual trial will begin.

Addressing the media after leaving the Bhiwandi court, Rahul accused the government filing cases against him, but not having answers on rising unemployment and saving farmers. "This is a government for the rich. The media shows the bright side. The prime minister does not speak on the issue like unemployment and protection of farmers. He doesn't have answers to rising fuel prices. They keep putting cases on me. They can keep doing so; it doesn't matter. This is my fight for ideology. We will fight them and win," he said.

File image of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Reuters

File image of Rahul Gandhi. Reuters

According to CNN-News18, the judge, while reading out charges, said Rahul defamed the complainant's organisation RSS through his remarks during a rally in 2014. The judge said that the Congress chief harmed RSS' reputation.

Kunte had filed the case after the Congress president's speech at an election rally, in which the latter had alleged that the RSS was behind the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. He had also said the Hindutva organisation opposed Sardar Patel.

Rahul had moved the Supreme Court in 2015 seeking a stay on Bombay High Court's order dismissing his plea for quashing the defamation case. In 2016, the court said Rahul must either apologise or face trial for his remarks. "You can't make wholesale denunciation of an organisation," the top court had said.

The Gandhi scion, who arrived in Mumbai on Tuesday morning for a two-day visit to Maharashtra, reached the magistrate's court at 11.05 am amid heavy security cover and was greeted by supporters who raised slogans in his favour.

He was accompanied by Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan and some other party leaders.  In the court room, Rahul's counsel Narayan Iyer and the
complainant's lawyer Dharghalkar argued over the issue of the submissions made by Gandhi in the High Court where he had submitted the transcript of his speech made during the said election rally at Bhiwandi on 6 March, 2014. The issue of taking it on record in this court was hotly debated and remained inconclusive.

"On the next date of hearing, the court is likely to pass an order on whether certain documents, including the transcript of the video recording of Rahul's speech submitted by the complainant, can be admitted as evidence or not," Iyer said. Rahul is not required to appear before the court on the next date of hearing, he said.

The court also allowed an application filed by Rahul last month seeking a summons trial, which would mean detailed recording of evidence, instead of a 'summary trial'. While trials in such cases are normally held summarily, Rahul Gandhi filed an application last month seeking for it to be conducted as a 'summons trial'.

"A summary trial is short and will be completed by just submitting the written arguments. We have sought for a summons trial which would go into the in-depth recording of the evidence," Iyer said.

"The case relates to historical facts and hence, we need to rely on several documents and would like to record the evidence of experts," he said.

After the court proceedings got over, Kunte said, "I have full faith in the court and I am sure justice will be delivered."

Rahul had earlier moved the Supreme Court seeking quashing of the case. The apex court had in July 2016 said he should not have resorted to "collective denunciation" of an organisation, and would have to face trial if he did not express regret for his remark.

The Congress leader had declined to accept the suggestion and expressed willingness to face the trial.

At one point of time, the SPG officials got annoyed as Rahul was made to use a toilet, which was in dilipidated condition, instead of taking him to the bar room washroom. Kunte, on the other hand, alleged that the police had given special treatment to Gandhi while he and his counsel were whisked away and subjected to a thorough checking before they entered the court room.

The road leading to Bhiwandi had huge hoardings which said, 'Rahul Gandhi, Sangarsha Karo'. The hoardings were later pulled down due to the model code of conduct in place for the MLC elections scheduled for 25 June.

He is expected to address party workers at 2.30 pm on Tuesday in Mumbai's Goregaon area as part of 'Project Shakti', which aims to empower ground-level workers and facilitate two-way communication. Later on Tuesday, he is also scheduled to interact with Congress corporators in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Jun 12, 2018 17:52:31 IST

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