Noting that important questions of law were raised by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi while seeking to quash a defamation complaint filed against him by a BJP leader, the Bombay High Court on Tuesday requested Advocate General of Maharashtra to appear in the matter.
Justice Sarang Kotwal observed: “Considering these submissions, it is quite clear that the matter involves important questions of law, including special procedure provided U/s.199 of the Cr.p.c. Therefore, I deem it necessary to request the learned Advocate General of Maharashtra to address the Court on all the legal issues involved in this case.”
The HC was hearing a plea by Gandhi seeking quashing of a defamation complaint filed by one Mahesh Shrishrimal, claiming to be a BJP party worker. The complaint was filed before a magistrate court for the Congress leader’s “commander-in-thief” remark against Prime Minister Modi in 2018 over the Rafale fighter jet deal.
Legal bar on the complainant to file the complaint: Rahul's counsel
Gandhi’s counsel Sudeep Pasbola referred to Section 199 (Prosecution for defamation) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and submitted that there was a legal bar on the complainant to file the complaint. He submitted that section 199(2) prescribes special procedure in respect of the alleged defamation of the authorities.
Pasbola further referred to Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code which deals with defamation and about collection of persons. Pasbola contended that the political party is not an identifiable group of persons and, therefore, the complainant could not have filed the complaint in his “representative capacity”.
Further, the case amounted to infringement of Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression) of the Constitution of India, Pasbola added.
However, Niteen Pradhan, counsel for Shrishrimal, submitted that the complainant who is a member of ‘BJP Maharashtra Pradesh Committee’ is an aggrieved person. Therefore, in that capacity he was entitled to file the complaint.
HC continues interim protection granted to Rahul
The judge noted that important legal issues were involved and asked AG to appear and kept the plea for hearing on October 17. Meanwhile, the HC continued the interim protection granted to Gandhi.
Shrishrimal alleged that in September 2018, Gandhi conducted a rally in Rajasthan where he made defamatory statements against Modi. Due to the said defamatory statement, Modi was allegedly trolled on media by various news channels and social media platforms.
Based on his complaint, a magistrate initiated criminal proceedings against Gandhi, who challenged it before the HC.