RSS defamation case: Bhiwandi court frames charges, Rahul Gandhi pleads ‘not guilty’

RSS defamation case: Bhiwandi court frames charges, Rahul Gandhi pleads ‘not guilty’

On May 2, the court had asked Congress president Rahul Gandhi to appear before it on June 12 to record his plea in the 2014 defamation case. 

Rahul Gandhi to address grassroots workers in Mumbai
Rahul Gandhi appeared in Thane court to file his plea in a defamation case. (File)

A Bhiwandi court in Maharashtra Tuesday framed charges against Congress president Rahul Gandhi for allegedly making defamatory remarks against the RSS at an election rally in 2014.

While Rahul pleaded not guilty, charges were framed after Rajesh Kunte, secretary of the Bhiwandi unit of the RSS, filed a complaint against Rahul for saying that the RSS was responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. The court also agreed to conduct the case as a detailed summons trial and not a summary trial following an earlier application by Rahul’s lawyers. The matter will be heard next on August 10, which, Rahul’s lawyers said, would not require his presence.

Nandu Phadke, the lawyer for Kunte said, “The court framed charges against Rahul under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code that deal with defamation. Now that the charges are filed, the court will hear evidence from both sides.”

Rahul, who appeared in court around 11.00 am was represented by a battery of lawyers that comprised of Sudeep Pasbola, Kushal Mor and Narayan Iyer. “During the hearing that went on for about an hour, the judge read out the charges against him. Rahul, who was seated in the first row, went to the dock and pleaded not guilty,” said Mor.

Prithviraj chavan, Maharashtra
Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan outside the Bhiwandi court. (Express photo)

According to Mor: “In Cases where the maximum punishment is two years or less, there can be a summary or summons trial. In a summary trial, there are only two to three hearings in the case. Also, if the judge is changed the matter has to be heard all over again. Since this was a case with historical ramifications we wanted a detailed recording of evidence in a summons trial. The plea has been accepted.”

While Kunte had no objections to the summons trial, his lawyer also moved an application for a translation of Rahul’s 2014 speech. Phadke said, “We also moved an application that a translation of the transcript of the speech that Rahul Gandhi had provided while filing a writ petition before the Bombay High Court against the case at the Bhiwandi court, be taken on record. His lawyers have given their say. The court will decide on the application on August 10.”

Mor called the move a short-cut. “The actual CD of the speech that was given by Rahul Gandhi has already been produced before the court. We want the court to take note of the first-hand evidence and not something that is a translation of the transcript of his speech,” he said.

Rahul left the courtroom around 12.00 pm and was accompanied by several senior Congress leaders including former chief ministers Prithviraj Chavan and Ashok Chavan. Talking to the media later, Rahul said: “Let the government keep filing cases against me. The current government is just run by around 10 -15 rich people who are making all the profits. Modiji will not talk about the fuel price hike.”

As he was about to leave in his car after the hearing, a crowd gathered outside the court called out to him. Rahul stepped outside the vehicle briefly and met supporters before leaving the court premises.