Rahul Gandhi’s Defamation Trial is a Political Misfire by the RSS

As Rahul Gandhi pleads ‘not guilty’, here’s why RSS may face unwanted skeletons coming out during the trial. 

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
(Photo: Liju Joseph/<b>The Quint</b>)
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Meet Satyaki Savarkar.

He is a software professional living in Pune. He’s also the centre of a criminal defamation battle between the Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh (RSS).

Savarkar, Gopal Godse’s grandson, has said that he believes Nathuram Godse was an RSS member till he died. The crux of the criminal defamation case against Rahul Gandhi is whether he had declared the RSS, as an organisation, to be responsible for Gandhi’s assassination. Savarkar’s statement implies that Godse was a member of the RSS even after the assassination. Legally, this would make Rahul Gandhi’s statement not defamatory, but a statement which is ‘closer to truth for the public good.’

But, for both the RSS and the Congress, it is not the legal outcome of the case which is important.

The political cost of fighting the case is.

Can RSS Exorcise Godse’s Ghost?

Politics is about perception.

For the RSS, the criminal defamation case against Rahul Gandhi was a chance to disassociate itself from Nathuram Godse in public imagination. Doing so would leave them free to reinforce their role in the freedom struggle.

But, it was a good chance for RSS.

Rahul Gandhi’s Defamation Trial is a Political Misfire by the RSS
(Photo: The Quint/Maanvi)

On 24 August 2016, Kapil Sibal, Rahul Gandhi’s lawyer told the SC that Gandhi never accused RSS, as an institution, for the assassination and offered a clarification – in lieu of criminal charges against Gandhi being dropped. But Rahul Gandhi chose to fight the case in court. And now, the RSS faces unwanted skeletons tumbling from its closet.

Rahul Gandhi’s team is using excerpts from Tushar Gandhi’s book Let’s Kill Gandhi!, Koenraad Elst’s Gandhi and Godse and AG Noorani’s The RSS And the BJP, among others as evidence, which the Congress has put up on its website.

  •  An excerpt from  Ashish Nandy’s ‘Exiled at Home’ submitted as exhibits. (Photo Courtesy: inc.in)
  • An excerpt from Tushar Gandhi’s ‘Let’s Kill Gandhi!’ submitted as exhibits. (Photo Courtesy: inc.in)&nbsp;
  • An excerpt from Koenraad Elst’s ‘Gandhi and Godse’ submitted as exhibits.(Photo Courtesy: inc.in)
  • &nbsp; An exceprt from AG Noorani’s ‘RSS and the BJP’ submitted as exhibits. (Photo Courtesy: inc.in)

A glance at these documents reveal information which could prove to be more damaging for the RSS than Gandhi’s statement. One of the excerpts quotes Nehru’s letter to Sardar Patel suggesting that Gandhi’s assassination was a “part of much wider campaign organised by RSS.”

With the 2019 parliamentary elections so close, surely the RSS wouldn’t want the ghost of Gandhi’s assassination hanging over its head.

A Political Risk for Congress?

Rahul Gandhi’s Defamation Trial is a Political Misfire by the RSS
(Photo: The Quint/Maanvi)

For the Congress, the criminal defamation trial is all about one man: Rahul Gandhi.

Considered to be weak by observers, Rahul Gandhi’s decision to stand by his statement and plead ‘not guilty’ made him look as an assertive leader. With an eye on the 2019 elections, the Congress is keen to project the trial as a battle between ideologies.

RSS and Its Queasy Relationship with Nathuram Godse

The criminal defamation case against Rahul Gandhi is not the first time that the RSS has tried to disassociate itself from Nathuram Godse.

A similar defamation case was filed against Congress leader Arjun Singh in 2004. Singh had allegedly said, “Since the tragic and fateful evening of 30 January 1948 when the shots fired by Nathuram Godse killed the father of the nation at a prayer meeting, I am convinced that philosophy of hate and violence, which the RSS swears by, killed Mahatmaji.” The case remained unresolved until Singh’s death in 2011

The criminal defamation case against Rahul Gandhi is not the first time that the RSS has tried to disassociate itself from Nathuram Godse. Here, Godse is seen at his trial.
The criminal defamation case against Rahul Gandhi is not the first time that the RSS has tried to disassociate itself from Nathuram Godse. Here, Godse is seen at his trial.
(Photo Courtesy: Photos Division, Government of India)

In 2003, India Today published an article describing Mahatma Gandhi’s assasination with the line “Among the 300 people who greeted him that evening was Nathuram Godse, an RSS worker, who fired three shots at close range from his automatic 9 mm Beretta into the fragile chest of the Mahatma.” In his judgement on the defamation case, which was filed subsequently, the judge remarked:

Any imputation which is made presumably on the basis of the material, which, if not even entirely true, is near to the truth and inference as truthful as the truth itself; cannot be termed to be defamatory.

Interestingly, when the Rahul Gandhi defamation case was brought to the Bombay High Court, the judge disagreed with this judgement and argued that it was up to the accused (in this case Rahul Gandhi), to prove whether the statement was made in ‘good faith’ or not.

Whether the remark made in a rally in Bhiwandi in March 2014 was made in ‘good faith’ or not is a matter which will be intensely debated in the courts in the coming months. But as far as the political battle outside the courtroom is concerned, looks like RSS is losing this round. For now.

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