The Bombay High Court said that the plea filed by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi seeking quashing of the defamation trial over his 2018 comment involved “crucial questions of law”. The high court has requested the Advocate General of Maharashtra to appear in the plea filed by Rahul Gandhi.
The bench of Justice Sarang Kotwal was hearing a plea filed by Gandhi through his lawyer Kushal Mor seeking the quashing of the proceedings against him for his “commander-in-thief” comment against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018.
Rahul Gandhi made the remark while addressing a public rally in Rajasthan. And Gandhi had tweeted the same on September 24, 2018.
During the hearing on Tuesday, the bench found that there were crucial questions of law raised by Gandhi in his plea including the procedure to be followed by the trial court under section 199 of the CrPC where there is a minister involved.
The court also asked whether any person could be considered a representative of the party while filing a complaint for the party.
On Tuesday, Advocate Sudeep Pasbola, representing Gandhi, submitted that “the whole allegation is taken as it is against the prime minister. It is not against the complainant or the BJP and only an aggrieved person can file a complaint for defamation.”
BJP leader Mahesh Shrishrimal claimed that by calling the Prime Minister “commander-in-thief”, Gandhi had alleged theft against all members of BJP and Indian citizens and thus he had filed a complaint of defamation.
Thus, Rahul Gandhi’s lawyer Pasbola contended that since his client’s comment was neither against Shrishrimal nor against his party, neither of them have the grounds to file this complaint.
Pasbola referred to Section 199 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and submitted that there was a legal bar for Shrishrimal to file the complaint. He referred to Sub Section 2 of Section 199 which prescribes special procedure in respect of the alleged defamation of the authorities mentioned under that subsection.
Pasbola further referred to Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code and in particular referred to Explanation 2, which speaks about the collection of persons.
He submitted that the political party is not an identifiable group of persons and, therefore, Shrishrimal could not have filed the complaint in his representative capacity.
Advocate Niteen Pradhan, appearing for Shrishrimal, on the other hand, submitted that the BJP leader was an aggrieved person.
“In any case, he is a member of ‘BJP Maharashtra Pradesh Committee’ and, therefore, in that capacity he was entitled to file the complaint. In any case, he himself is an aggrieved person, as, such averments are specifically mentioned in the complaint, in the verification statement and also in the statement recorded by the police in their inquiry,” Pradhan argued.
After hearing arguments from both sides, Justice Kotwal said “Considering these submissions, it is quite clear that the matter involves important questions of law, including special procedure provided under section 199 of the CrPC. Therefore, I deem it necessary to request the Advocate General of Maharashtra to address the court on all the legal issues involved in this case.”
The court will further hear the petition on October 17.
“Until then, the interim protection granted by the court (to Gandhi) earlier was extended,” the court held.
Rahul Gandhi had been summoned by the magistrate’s court and it was against this summons that Gandhi had approached the Bombay High Court. The court during an earlier hearing had granted Gandhi protection from appearance before the Magistrate court