Justice B.R. Gavai to head Bench hearing Rahul Gandhi defamation case on July 21

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had given a political speech critical of economic offenders and also of Prime Minister Narendra Modi

July 21, 2023 05:51 am | Updated 07:13 am IST - NEW DELHI

 Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, File photo

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, File photo | Photo Credit: Murali Kumar K

A Supreme Court Bench of Justices B.R. Gavai and P.K. Mishra is scheduled to hear a petition filed by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to suspend his conviction in a criminal defamation case on Friday.

Mr. Gandhi, in a petition filed by advocate Prasanna S., contended that the lower courts had found a political speech critical of economic offenders and also of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, made in the course of democratic political activity, an “act of moral turpitude”. This conclusion is unprecedented in defamation jurisprudence itself, he has submitted.

“A political speech in the course of democratic political activity, critical of economic offenders, and also of Shri Narendra Modi, has been held to be an act of moral turpitude inviting the harshest punishment. Such a finding is gravely detrimental to democratic free speech in the midst of a political campaign. It is respectfully submitted that the same will set a disastrous precedent wiping out any form of political dialogue or debate which is remotely critical in any manner,” the petition said.

Mr. Gandhi has been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, the maximum punishment in defamation law.

“This has resulted in the inexorable exclusion of the petitioner from all political elective office for a long period of eight years. That too, in the world’s largest democracy where the petitioner has been a former president of the oldest political movement in the country and is also continuously in the vanguard of Opposition political activity,” the petition said.

The criminal defamation case was related to Mr. Gandhi’s “Modi” surname remark made during a political rally in Karnataka’s Kolar district in 2019.

Challenging the July 7 Gujarat High Court decision, Mr. Gandhi contended that he was served the two-year conviction for allegedly defaming an “undefined amorphous group” which according to the complainant, Gujarat MLA Purnesh Ishwarbhai Modi, had wronged the reputation of “13 crore people”.

Defamation law required the wrong to be done to a well-defined class of people, and not a vague group, he has argued.

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