Litigation as an instrumentality in politics has had many practitioners since the Allahabad High Court ‘invalidated’ Indira Gandhi’s election from Rae Bareilly in 1975. The judgement triggered Emergency rule, lasting till 1977 and paving the way for the election of the first non-Congress regime at the Centre.
Generically different from election petitions, defamation cases such as the one brought against Rahul Gandhi are generally aimed at putting down or silencing political opponents. The BJP’s Arun Jaitley has criminal and civil defamation cases going against Arvind Kejriwal for the AAP leader’s allegations of graft during his tenure as President of Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA).
Similarly, Jaitley’s party colleague Nitin Gadkari has sued the Congress’s Digvijaya Singh for insinuating wrong doings in the allocation of a mine in Chhattisgarh to the family of a sitting Rajya Sabha Member. The trend as much reflects the falling standards of public discourse as the deeply adversarial nature of our polity.
The defamation suit Rahul wants scrapped was brought against him by RSS activist Rajesh Kunte. He cited in his plea the Congress vice president’s speech at an election rally in Maharashtra in which he said: “the RSS people killed Gandhiji and today their people (BJP) talk of him….”
If Rahul refuses to withdraw the remarks considered defamatory, he’d have to establish truth in his defense--- besides proving that what he said was in larger public good, said Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde. “A trial in the case would be ‘protracted and nasty’ for the plaintiff and the defendant,” remarked another SC lawyer K N Bhat. He said: “In defamation cases, a tale-bearer (in this case Rahul) is as much responsible as the tale-maker. You just can’t say that you repeated a commonly held perception.”
In fact, Rahul isn’t the first Congress leader to be so dragged to Court by RSS activists. Before him, defamation cases were slapped against then HRD Minister Arjun Singh and Digvijaya Singh.
Arjun Singh was sued in Tamil Nadu (Chennai) and Haryana (Yamunanagar) for holding RSS responsible for Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse . While the Tamil Nadu case was dismissed, he got bail and exemption from personal experience in the second case. The litigation ended with his death in 2011.
Digvijaya has had a veritable running battle with the RSS and its sympathizers for his remarks against radical Hindu groups and their alleged complicity in cases under probe. He was sued in a Gwalior court for claiming involvement of Sangh’s activists in bomb blasts. “The case was withdrawn when I presented facts,” he told HT.
As of now, Digvijaya is facing no other case except the one brought against him by Gadkari. “I keep getting legal notices for my comments against the RSS. I don’t respond as I want them to take me to court. But that doesn’t happen,” he claimed.
Digvijaya did not directly comment on the case against Rahul. But he insisted, “Godse was in influenced by the RSS ideology that killed Gandhi.”