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RSS defamation case: Bombay HC dismisses plea seeking transcript of Rahul Gandhi’s 2014 speech to be taken as evidence

Rajesh Kunte was challenging the order of the magistrate court that rejected his application seeking to admit as evidence a transcript copy of the 2014 speech by Rahul Gandhi, in which he allegedly blamed the RSS for Mahatma Gandhi's assassination.

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
Updated: September 20, 2021 11:06:53 pm
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi (Express file photo by Amit Mehra)

The Bombay High Court on Monday dismissed a writ petition by an RSS functionary Rajesh Kunte seeking that the transcript of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s speech made in 2014, in which he allegedly blamed the RSS for Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, be admitted as evidence in a defamation case against him.

Kunte had challenged the September 2018 order of the magistrate court that rejected his application seeking to admit as evidence a transcript copy of the 2014 speech by Rahul Gandhi.

A single-judge bench of Justice Revati Mohite-Dere on Monday rejected a plea by Kunte and upheld the trial court order. The high court had reserved the plea for the verdict on August 11.

Kunte had sought from the high court to direct the Bhiwandi magistrate court to consider transcript of speech submitted by the Congress leader before HC in another plea challenging the process issued against him ‘as being proved’ under the provisions of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

Advocate Niteen Pradhan for the petitioner said that petition challenged the 2018 order of the magistrate court, which in June 2018 framed charges against Rahul Gandhi under provisions of the IPC on defamation, but in September 2018 refused to admit the transcript of his speech at Bhiwandi on March 6, 2014.

On September 10, 2018, the magistrate court had refused to allow Kunte’s application seeking to substantiate the transcript of the speech ‘as evidence’.

The bench was told that the magistrate court had perused the CD of the speech before summoning Gandhi, and therefore the transcript of the contents of the CD should be admitted as evidence in the trial.

The plea said that transcripts of contents of a CD of the speech submitted by Rahul Gandhi during the high court hearing on his plea challenging the summons issued against him stop him from denying the said transcript before the trial court under section 294 of the CrPC. Kunte, said that the magistrate made an error in passing an order and requested the HC to quash and set aside the same.

However, Gandhi, through advocates Sudeep Pasbola and Kushal Mor justified the magistrate’s decision and opposed the plea. He submitted that the Kunte’s plea was ‘unmeritorious and untenable’ and filed with ‘sole intention to scuttle the trial’ and deserves to be dismissed, as petitioner was seeking the court to do something ‘expressly prohibited in law’.

While addressing an election rally on March 6, 2014, in Maharashtra’s Thane district, the then Congress vice-president had alleged that the RSS was behind the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

Following the incident, a defamation suit was filed by Rajesh Kunte, against Rahul Gandhi in a Bhiwandi court. Kunte had accused the Congress leader of tarnishing the reputation of the Sangh through his speech.

In March 2015, the Bombay High Court dismissed Rahul Gandhi’s plea seeking to quash the defamation case, prompting him to approach the Supreme Court with a special leave petition to challenge the HC order. He later withdrew the plea in SC, and expressed his willingness to face trial and said he would not apologise.

A Bhiwandi court in June 2018 framed charges against then Congress president Rahul Gandhi for allegedly making defamatory remarks against the RSS at an election rally. While Rahul pleaded not guilty, charges were framed and the case was set for trial.

After hearing submissions, the bench noted that the transcript of the CD was annexed by Gandhi in his plea seeking quashing of the defamation case stating no case was made out against him. The judge noted, “Merely because the said transcript was annexed to the petition (Gandhi’s plea in HC), does not mean that the said document has been admitted by him, thereby absolving the petitioner from proving the same.”

The bench added, “…It would not make such a document a `public document’, obtained from whichever source, thus giving a complete go-by to the complainant (petitioner) from proving the same in accordance with law. Prosecution/complainant has to stand on its own feet and prove its case on its own steam.”

The court also held that an accused has the right to ‘remain silent’ under Article 20 (3) of the Constitution and same is ‘sacrosanct’ in criminal trial and if the accused is compelled to deny or admit a document, it would be “contrary to constitutional mandate. Considering the aforesaid, there is no infirmity in the impugned order passed by Magistrate. The petition, being devoid of merit, is dismissed.”

In February this year, Gandhi’s advocate sought exemption from appearance for the Congress leader as he could not travel due to Covid-19 restrictions. The court allowed the exemption and adjourned the hearing.

Kunte’s lawyer had sought an adjournment, citing a petition filed in the high court in this case about allowing certain documents to be presented as evidence in the trial.

The detailed order will be made available in due course.

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