The Bombay High Court on Monday extended till August 2 the interim relief granted to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi from appearance before a court here in a defamation complaint on his alleged remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018.
The complainant, who claims to be a BJP worker, had alleged that Gandhi's "commander-in-thief" remark in the context of the Rafale fighter jet deal amounted to defamation.
A single bench of Justice S V Kotwal adjourned the hearing on the plea filed by Gandhi challenging the summons issued to him by the local court in 2021 after the complainant's lawyer sought time. "The interim relief granted earlier to continue till August 2," Justice Kotwal said. Earlier, Gandhi was directed by the local court to appear before it November 2021 in a defamation complaint filed by Mahesh Shrishrimal.
Gandhi then approached the HC challenging the summons issued to him. The high court in November 2021 directed the magistrate to defer hearing on the defamation complaint which meant the Congress leader would not be required to appear before the magistrate.
Since then hearing on Gandhi's plea has been adjourned from time to time and the interim relief granted to him was also extended. The magistrate initiated criminal proceedings against Gandhi in August 2019. However, the Congress leader in his petition before the high court claimed that he learnt about the same only in July 2021.
The complainant alleged that Gandhi made defamatory statements against PM Modi at a rally held in Rajasthan in September 2018. As per the complaint, four days later (after the rally), Gandhi purportedly commented on a video and posted on his personal Twitter account: "The sad truth about India's commander in thief."
The complainant alleged that Gandhi was making "defamatory statements against Modi and by calling him 'Commander in Thief' made a direct allegation of theft against all members of BJP and Indian citizens connected to Modi".
In his petition filed through advocate Kushal Mor, Gandhi stated that the instant complaint was a classic example of frivolous and vexatious litigation motivated by the sole purpose of furthering the complainant's latent political agenda. The petition said the complainant had no locus to file the complaint since defamation can be initiated only by the person who has been allegedly defamed.
The Congress leader had sought to quash the order of the magistrate and a stay on the proceedings pending the hearing of the petition. Notably, a court in Surat had convicted Rahul Gandhi in a criminal defamation case over his "Modi surname" remark and sentenced him to two years in the jail. The decision had led to his disqualification as a Member of Parliament. The plea of Gandhi seeking a stay on his conviction is heard by the Gujarat High Court.