Thane: Congress President Rahul Gandhi will face trial in a defamation case filed against him by a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker after a magistrate court here today framed charges against him.
Gandhi pleaded not guilty in the case.
The 47-year-old Congress leader arrived at the magistrate's court in Bhiwandi at 11.05 am amid heavy security cover and was greeted by people raising slogans in his support.
Gandhi appeared before civil judge A I Sheikh, who read out the charges levelled against him and also the statement of the complainant Rajesh Kunte.
"As per the charge, you (Gandhi) on March 6, 2014 in a rally held for elections at Bhiwandi, Thane defamed the organisation to which the complainant belongs," the judge said while reading out the charge.
"Your speech, which was telecast on channels and also published in newspapers, damaged the reputation of the complainant and his organisation and you thereby committed an offence under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)," he said.
The judge then asked Gandhi, "Do you accept the charges?"
To this, Gandhi replied, "I plead not guilty."
The court then proceeded to frame charges against the Congress leader under IPC sections 499 (defamation) and 500 (punishment for defamation).
Under section 500, a person if found guilty of defamation shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
The court then posted the case for next hearing on August 10.
Gandhi left the court at 12.15 pm.
"On the next day of hearing, the court is likely to pass an order on whether certain documents, including the transcript of the video recording of Gandhi's speech submitted by the complainant, can be admitted as evidence or not," Gandhi's lawyers Narayan Iyer and Kushal Mor said.
Gandhi is not required to appear before the court on the next date of hearing, they said.
The court had on May 2 asked the Congress leader to appear before it today to record his plea in the defamation case filed by Kunte in 2014.
Kunte had filed the case after watching Rahul Gandhi's speech at an election rally in which he had alleged that the RSS was behind the killing of Mahatma Gandhi.
"The RSS people had killed (Mahatma) Gandhi," the Congress president had allegedly said in the rally.
The court today also allowed an application filed by Rahul Gandhi last month seeking a summons trial, which would mean detailed recording of evidence, instead of a 'summary trial'.
While trials in such cases are normally held summarily, Rahul Gandhi filed an application last month seeking for it to be conducted as a 'summons trial'.
"A summary trial is short and will be completed by just submitting the written arguments. We have sought for a summons trial which would go into the in-depth recording of the evidence," Iyer said.
"The case relates to historical facts and hence, we need to rely on several documents and would like to record the evidence of experts," he said.
After the court proceedings got over, Kunte said, "I have full faith in the court and I am sure justice will be delivered."
Rahul Gandhi had earlier moved the Supreme Court seeking quashing of the case.
The apex court had in July 2016 said he should not have resorted to "collective denunciation" of an organisation, and would have to face trial if he did not express regret for his remark.
The Congress leader had declined to accept the suggestion and expressed willingness to face the trial.