Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday told the Supreme Court that he stood by every word of his statement against Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for the assasination of Mahatma Gandhi and preferred to face trial before a Maharashtra court which had issued a summons to him as an accused in the case.
"I stand by each and every word. I will never take my words back. I stood by it yesterday, I stand by it today and I will stand by it in future as well. I am ready to go to the trial," senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Rahul, submitted, told a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and R F Nariman and reiterated "what Gopal Godse, brother of Nathuram Godse has said about the RSS.
The Congress vice president had made the statement at an election rally in 2015. He would now face trial in a Bhiwandi court in Maharashtra where a defamation case has been filed.
When the matter came up before the bench, the counsel appearing for an RSS functionary who has filed the complaint, said he had instruction that the matter can be put to an end if Rahul gave another clarificatory statement that he never intended to say that RSS was behind the assassination.
However, Sibal’s submission that the apex court should take on record that Rahul wanted to face trial as he stood by every word, was refused by the bench.
The court also refused to give exemption to Rahul from a personal appearance before the Bhiwandi court in the case.
At the outset, senior advocate U R Lalit, who was asked at the last hearing to take instruction from his client as to whether he was ready to accept Rahul's statement that he did not blame the RSS but people associated with it for the killing, said there was a need for some addition in the sentence.
"I am taking the statement at its face value. In the given situation, I can agree with his stand if he states that he did not intend to involve the RSS for the offence. If he says he did not intend to involve the RSS, let him clarify.
"Let him say that he believes that the RSS as an institution was not involved in the killing," Lalit told the bench which had sought his response to the stand taken by the Congress leader on the last hearing that is August 24.
Lalit, who said he was appearing for the organisation, drew the attention of the bench that during some of the election speeches in Assam and other places, he has made similar statements on the issue.
"I am not saying anything else. Let him show his bona fide that I (Rahul) did not intend to say that the RSS was involved in the crime because I can show the sequence (of his statement in the election speech) is such that the RSS is the target.
"Nobody is interested in Godse (Nathuram). He was addressing an election rally and his target was RSS. If he says that it (his speech) was not intended to target the RSS by adding second sentence," Lalit, assisted by advocate Anand, said.
Elaborating further as to how the RSS has been under attack of Congress party, Lalit said "wherever and whenever there is an election, the RSS is maligned."
"For the last 60 years, everytime when there is election and whenever it is a political battle and wherever there is minority votes, we (the RSS) are the capital hook," Lalit said.
While he was in full song, senior advocate Sibal interrupted, saying that the opposite side was making a "political speech" and should be stopped.
Lalit shot back saying he will prove the case with proof.
And as the decibel level rose, Sibal said that his leader stands by his statement made in the election rally which led to the filing of the private criminal defamation case.
At this point, the bench stopped the hearing and began dictating the order but Sibal interrupted asking it to consider exempting Rahul from personal appearance before the trial court on future dates of hearing.
The bench declined the plea saying "we are not granting exemption from personal appearance."
Realising that the bench was not inclined to close the matter by recording the statement of Congress leader, Sibal preferred to withdraw the appeal filed by him against the Bombay High Court judgement refusing to quash the case and summons issued to him by the trial court.
The bench allowed his plea and declared the Special Leave Petition filed by Rahul as "dismissed as withdrawn".
The bench also said the trial court would go into the case without being influenced by any of the observations made by the apex court and the high court during the various hearings before them.
On August 24, Rahul had told the Supreme Court that he had never blamed the RSS as an institution for killing Mahatma Gandhi but persons associated with it were behind the assassination.
He buttressed his stand by citing paragraphs from his affidavit filed in the Bombay high court, while challenging the summons issued to him as an accused for his alleged defamatory statement.
Sibal cited the affidavit filed before the high court and said that Rahul had only accused certain people of the RSS and not the organisation as the killer of Mahatma Gandhi.
The court had asked Lalit, appearing for Rajesh Mahadev Kunte, secretary of Bhiwandi unit of the RSS and the complainant, to take instructions on the option of disposing of the matter.
Lalit had informed the court that he would take instruction as to whether the statement, given in the affidavit, is taken on record, then the petition can be disposed of or not.
Kunte, secretary of Bhiwandi unit of the RSS, had alleged in his complaint that Rahul told in an election rally at Sonale on March 6, 2015 that the “RSS people killed Gandhiji”.
The case is pending before a magisterial court in Bhiwandi in Maharashtra’s Thane district.
He had alleged that the Congress leader had sought to tarnish the reputation of RSS through his speech.
Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images