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Forum faces Rs 400 cr lawsuit for defaming Sonia

Last updated on: April 08, 2008 20:03 IST

The Indian National Overseas Congress has filed a $100 million (Rs 400 crore) libel lawsuit against three members of the so called Forum for Saving Gandhi's Heritage for allegedly defaming party president Sonia Gandhi during her visit to New York last year.

INOC, a wholly-owned subsidiary organization of the Congress, named three individuals -- Arish Sahani, Dr Bharat Barai as well as Narain Kataria, the first name of whom was misspelt in the lawsuit. It was filed in the New York State Supreme Court.

All three have been associated with groups such as the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

According to court papers, INOC has demanded judgment against the three and an award of 'actual, compensatory, special and punitive damages in the amount of $100 million' (Rs 400 crore) in addition to costs and disbursements, legal fees and other further relief 'that the court deems fit, just and proper.'

Gandhi was in New York to attend an informal plenary session of the United Nations General Assembly that had declared October 2, Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, as the International Day of Non-Violence and also to deliver the inaugural lecture on the event.

Coinciding with her visit, the little known Forum, comprising several current or former members of the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party took a full page advertisement in the New York Times in which it accused her of violating multiple laws of India with impunity from the time she entered India by way of marriage with former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and 'looting the country' on a large scale.

The advertisement also launched personal attacks against Sonia, something the protestors had denied, alleging that the Italian-born Roman Catholic 'locked the then Congress (party) president with (the help of) party goons in a toilet and declared herself party president.'

"These kind of personal attacks were actually tantamount to hitting someone below the belt; totally unnecessary. Personally, I may not like L K Advani (Bharatiya Janata party leader), but I would not stoop to this level," Dr Surinder Malhotra, president of the INOC told

"Therefore, I could not keep quiet; I am morally responsible to save the honour of our party President," Malhotra said.

In response to a question if he was asked to file the lawsuit by the Congress in India, Malhotra replied in the negative.

"The party in India has nothing to do with this lawsuit. It was our moral duty. I was duty-bound to take this action." Malhotra claimed.

The lawsuit noted that no authors explicitly identified themselves as being responsible for the advertisement content and that the website for the forum does not give any legal status for any specific organization, neither any address for its operations and just a few contact information such as the last names of a few persons, including the three defendants and their phone numbers.

'To the extent therefore, that a so-called corporate veil exists regarding such entities' as Forum for Gandhi Heritage, Forum for Saving Gandhi Heritage or A Forum for Persevering Gandhi Heritage, it can and should be pierced in order to reach the responsible malefactors,' it said. 'It fact, however, there is no legal entity known as 'Forum for Gandhi Heritage,' it said.

When contacted, Kataria, a veteran community activist, denied knowledge of any such lawsuit.

"Nobody has told me anything about it, nor have I got any (copy of the complaint). I have not got anything. You are the first person telling me about this," he claimed.

"We will see (when it comes)," Kataria told this correspondent.

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York