Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has submitted a petition to the Bombay High Court contesting a decision made by the Magistrate court in Bhiwandi.
The decision allowed transcripts of his alleged defamatory speech to be presented as 'evidence' in an ongoing defamation case filed by a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) member.
Rajesh Kunte, an RSS worker, accused Gandhi of defaming the RSS by making "unfounded and baseless allegations" during an election rally in 2014, where Gandhi reportedly implicated the RSS in Mahatma Gandhi's assassination.
Gandhi asserted that Justice Revati Mohite Dere had already dismissed Kunte's appeal to admit the speech transcript as evidence under Section 294 of the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) in the defamation complaint back in September 2021.
Justice Dere had noted that attaching a certified copy of the speech transcript to Gandhi's quashing petition before the High Court in 2015 did not compel Kunte to force Gandhi to acknowledge the document. The authenticity of the CD would need to be established during the trial, the Court emphasized.
The current petition by Gandhi claimed that despite this prior order, the magistrate permitted the petition, along with its attachments, to be introduced as "evidence." One of these attachments was the transcript of his speech.
Gandhi's legal counsel argued that Kunte's acquisition of certified copies of Gandhi's 2014 plea did not grant him the authority to compel Gandhi to confirm or refute the attachments to that petition.
On Monday, Justice Sarang V Kotwal, a single-judge bench, expressed that the issue should be reviewed by Justice Dere's bench since she had previously handled the matter.
On 6 March 2014, as Congress vice president, Gandhi allegedly suggested that the RSS was involved in Mahatma Gandhi's assassination.
Gandhi had initially sought to quash the proceedings against him in the High Court. However, in March 2015, the Bombay High Court declined to dismiss the case.
He subsequently approached the Supreme Court to challenge the High Court's decision but later withdrew his plea, expressing his readiness to face trial while refraining from apologizing.
Since then, Kunte has endeavored to have the entire petition recognized as evidence in the defamation case, contending that by attaching a copy of the speech to the petition, Gandhi had essentially accepted ownership.
In 2018, the Bhiwandi Court in Thane framed charges against Gandhi, who entered a plea of not guilty, leading to the commencement of trial proceedings. The magistrate also rejected Kunte's request under section 294 of the CrPC to exhibit the speech as evidence.
The High Court upheld the magistrate's ruling in 2021. However, on 3 June, the magistrate accepted additional documents from Kunte, including the writ petition, which Gandhi opposed.
Gandhi's petition will now be reviewed by Justice Revati Mohite Dere's bench.
Nishtha Anushree is Senior Sub-editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @nishthaanushree.
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