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Gujarat High Court dismisses Arvind Kejriwal and Sanjay Singh’s petitions challenging summons in defamation case over PM Modi’s degree 

AAP representatives claimed in the High Court that the comments were not against the university and hence there was no basis for the case to be maintained at all. The varsity, however, charged that the statements made by the duo had tarnished its credibility and they should face legal proceedings.

On 16th February, the Gujarat High Court dismissed the arguments put forth by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the party’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh contesting a Sessions Court order that upheld a Magistrate Court summons against them in a defamation lawsuit brought by Gujarat University regarding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s educational background. On 2nd February, after hearing evidence from both parties, a bench of Justice Hasmukh D. Suthar reserved its decisions.

Judge H D Suthar disregarded the pleas and declared that the arguments for quashing the summons might be raised in the magistrate court during the trial. The two had filed a revision application with the Gujarati High Court in September of last year, four days after their appeal was denied by a Sessions Court in Ahmedabad. The grievance’s potential to stifle the right to free speech and expression is another point of contention raised in the appeal.

AAP representatives claimed in the High Court that the comments were not against the university and hence there was no basis for the case to be maintained at all. The varsity, however, charged that the statements made by the duo had tarnished its credibility and they should face legal proceedings.

Notably, on 1st April 2023, Arvind Kejriwal made the controversial comments at a press conference, raising doubt on the authenticity of the degree accorded to PM Modi by the Gujarat University. Sanjay Singh voiced similar sentiments at another news conference on the next day. The Gujarat University then brought a criminal defamation case against them before an Ahmedabad magistrate court. The AAP leaders have been calling PM Modi an “uneducated or less educated PM”, implying that his degree certificate is fake.

Arvind Kejriwal contended before the High Court that he delivered defamatory remarks during a press conference when he raised a significant issue regarding the qualifications of the Prime Minister of India. He claimed that it was not slanderous to express his views since he had discharged his duty to awaken the Indian people by stating that the country should have intelligent and capable persons holding constitutional positions, including the Prime Minister’s office, by bringing up the matter.

Furthermore, his petition alleged that a cursory examination of the purported remarks would not yield any element of Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) consequently justifying the commencement and extension of the trial against him because he had uttered transparent, uncomplicated and harmless observations during a political discussion to enlighten the Indian populace.

The defence asserted that neither the act of calling the press conference nor the conduct of asking the Prime Minister of India for his degree could be deemed to be defamatory statements. It further maintained in his plea that the Gujarat University, an instrumentality of the state in this case, cannot be considered an aggrieved party and that the Court erred gravely in granting the contested summoning orders. The Court overlooked the fact that only the “aggrieved” person has the authority to file a defamation lawsuit.

It alleged that since the University is an unidentified and indeterminate body and cannot be regarded as a class under Section 499 IPC, it is not permitted for a government institution to file and maintain a criminal defamation complaint, even if it is not regarded as a state.

The appeal submitted that no appropriate investigation under section 202 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) had been carried out in front of the court to demonstrate how the Respondent is seen to have been defamed in the eyes of others and the witnesses called in to corroborate the inquiry were Gujarat University staff members.

It conveyed, “The present Complaint is not instituted by an aggrieved person, in as much as Dr Piyush M. Patel has not claimed in the present complaint to be the aggrieved person. No specific injury or statement is stated to have been made against him, who is a Public Servant and thus Section 199(2) CrPC is not complied with in the present case. The Complaint is neither filed by the Public Prosecutor nor filed before the Court of Session.”

The motion stressed that the summons order incorrectly assumes and records Gujarat University as the petitioner’s opponent and since the complaint was lodged against the petitioner in his capacity as the Chief Minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, a sanction under section 197 CrPC was required.

Regarding Sanjay Singh, it was contested that the varsity’s claimed defamatory speech was not posted by him on X platform and the truth would have come to light had the magistrate court conducted its inquiry in accordance with the proper protocol in this regard. Senior advocate Rebecca John and Advocate Aum M Kotwal represented both Aam Aadmi Party leaders.

Arvind Kejriwal and Sanjay Singh’s criminal defamation charges were halted last month by the Supreme Court. The Gujarat High Court was going to revisit the issue of providing interim relief in four weeks after the Bench of Justices BR Gavai and Sandeep Mehta declined to entertain Sanjay Singh’s request to move the case out of Gujarat at the present stage. The trial court’s defamation case had been put on hold up until that point. The trial is scheduled to resume following the high court’s decision, barring another stay from the highest court. The lawyers for the AAP leaders did not ask for the high court’s ruling to be stayed.

The remarks of Arvind Kejriwal and Sanjay Singh have been cited in the criminal complaint Gujarat University filed under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code through its Registrar Dr. Piyush M. Patel. The complaint accuses the two of making disparaging remarks about the university regarding PM Modi’s degree in press conferences and on X (formerly Twitter). A summons to appear in court was issued for them.

Background of the Controversy

The leaders of the AAP had questioned the validity of the degree that Gujarat University had awarded PM Modi. At a press conference on 2nd April 2023, Sanjay Singh charged, “All the ministers and spokesperson of the BJP have scrambled to prove that the prime minister’s degree is not fake. If an investigation takes place the prime minister’s degrees would turn out to be phoney and his (Lok Sabha) membership will be cancelled.”

Arvind Kejriwal made an identical statement while addressing the media on 1st April. He alleged, ” An uneducated or less educated PM is dangerous for India. It is either because of his ego he doesn’t feel the need to show it to anyone but this kind of behaviour is not valid in a democracy. The other question that arises is that the degree might be fake.”

“If a degree is there and it is correct then why the degree is not being given? Why Gujarat and Delhi University are not giving degrees? The degree is not being given because the degree may be fake. If the Prime Minister studied at Delhi University, Gujarat University, then Gujarat University should celebrate that our boy has become the Prime Minister of the country. It is trying to hide his degree. (Univerisity) put his all to prove a fake degree (of PM) as right,” the words have been found objectionable and declared defamatory in the criminal complaint filed by Gujarat University.

The Gujarat High Court’s March 2023 decision which stated that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is not required to provide PM Modi’s degree certificates under the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) is the basis of the defamation lawsuit. The Chief Information Commission’s (CIC) directive to the PMO’s public information officer (PIO) and the PIOs of Gujarat University and Delhi University to provide information on PM Modi’s undergraduate and graduate degrees was overturned by Judge Biren Vaishnav.

Arvind Kejriwal was also ordered to pay Rs 25,000 in charges by the High Court. The Gujarat High Court ordered on 29th August that the Principal Sessions City Civil Court in Ahmedabad forward the revision plea to another court and that it make a decision on the case within ten days.

He launched an appeal with a division bench of the High Court in December 2023, contesting the single judge’s ruling. It is still pending before the High Court. Gujarat University initiated a defamation lawsuit against the two legislators shortly after the High Court ruled against the AAP leaders in the RTI case.

The High Court denied an interim stay of the proceedings in August of last year in the challenge against the issuance of a summons in the defamation action. The Supreme Court also upheld the judgement.

The additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Jayeshbhai Chovatiya determined in April of this year that, prima facie Arvind Kejriwal and Sanjay Singh attcaked the Gujarat University because their statements were sarcastic and intended to damage its reputation. It highlighted, “It is natural that due to the statements of the accused people who know the credit of Gujarat University and all the people who do not know Gujarat University will develop distrust towards Gujarat University.”

The Court further held that political office holders will be held personally liable for their words, which will be interpreted as a breach of the people’s trust, if they, rather than carrying out their duties to their constituents, engage in any activity that directly or indirectly furthers their enmity or selfishness, or to harm their opponents or themselves. The Court issued them summonses in that order, directing them to appear in person before the Court.

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