Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to a defamation charge by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in a Bhiwandi court in Thane, which accepted his application seeking a “summons” trial that could lead to an examining of historical evidence of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.
Rahul Gandhi, who has been accused of defaming the RSS by purportedly blaming it for Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination at an election rally in 2014, was charged under Sections 499 (defamation) and 500 (punishment for defamation) of the Indian Penal Code.
After reading out and explaining the charges to him, the court asked Gandhi if he wanted to plead guilty, to which he responded not guilty.
The framing of charges is the first step towards the commencement of a trial.
Gandhi’s lawyer Narayan Iyer said the application to convert the case into a summons trial had been accepted. “The court admitted our application for a summons trial, which will give us the opportunity to examine and produce historical evidences, documents and reports dating back to the 1950s. This means that Rahul Gandhi, who has been accused of defamation for linking the Gandhi assassination to the RSS, has every right to provide detailed evidence to prove his case.”
According to a Mumbai Congress leader, who asked not to be named, the party wants a debate into the RSS’s alleged links to the assassination by referring to the decades-old case and the 1969 Kapoor Commission report on the assassination.
“This is likely to snowball into a bigger debate and it will bring the public focus back on the activities of the RSS during the freedom struggle and the events that unfolded after that,”said a Maharashtra Congress leader on the condition of anonymity
Speaking to the media outside the court premises, Gandhi said he would face the trial.
An RSS functionary not wanting to be identified said, “He (Gandhi) said inside the courtroom that he is not guilty and should be acquitted. Outside the courtroom, he said he is ready to face such cases. If he is ready, then why is he delaying the trial? Today was his third appearance, after over 20 hearings.”
On March 6, 2014, a local RSS worker, Rajesh Kunte, 43, filed the defamation case against Gandhi over a speech in Bhiwandi. Kunte alleged that Gandhi had indirectly suggested that RSS workers had killed Mahatma Gandhi. Acting on Kunte’s complaint, the magistrate court had on July 11, 2014, summoned Gandhi to face trial.
On March 10, 2015, the Bombay high court turned down Gandhi’s plea to quash the defamation case and declined to give him more time. Gandhi then moved the Supreme Court with a special leave petition seeking permission to challenge the high court’s decision. He later withdrew the petition, expressed his willingness to face trial and said he would not apologize.