MUMBAI: Congress President Rahul Gandhi pleaded not guilty in a magistrate’s court in Bhiwandi, a town near Mumbai, in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) defamation case on Tuesday, indicating that he will face trial.
The court framed charges against him under sections 499 (defamation) and 500 (sentence for defamation) and posted the next hearing for August 10.
Gandhi has been exempted from personally appearing before the court for the next hearing following a request in this regard, said his counsels Narayan Iyer and Kushal Mor.
As Gandhi appeared in the court today, judge AI Sheikh read out the charges levelled against him and the statement of complainant Rajesh Kunte.
In an election rally on March 6, 2014 at Bhiwandi, Gandhi had allegedly said, “The RSS people had killed (Mahatma) Gandhi.”
After informing him that he had been charged with defamation for the speech, the judge asked Gandhi whether he accepted the charges.
“I plead not guilty,” was Gandhi’s reply. The court then proceeded to frame charges against the Congress leader. Under section 500, a person guilty of defamation can be punished with simple imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine, or both.
Kunte’s lawyer Ganesh Dhargalkar presented before the court a certified copy of papers submitted by Gandhi in the Bombay High Court in 2015 while seeking exemption from personal appearance in the same case.
The papers included a certified copy of Gandhi’s speech at Bhiwandi. Dhargalkar moved an application for the copy to be admitted as evidence. The court may decide on the application on August 10.
The court also allowed an application filed by Rahul Gandhi last month seeking a summons trial, which would mean detailed recording of evidence.
Speaking to reporters outside the court, Gandhi slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not talking about farmers and employment for youth, and said his fight was against the government’s policies.
He dared the BJP and the RSS to slap as many cases on him as they wanted to. “Ours is a fight of ideology. We will fight them and win,” he said.