Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) leaders Aaditya Thackeray and Sanjay Raut on Monday opposed before the Delhi High Court a defamation plea filed against them by Maharastra MP Rahul Ramesh Shewale for allegedly levelling frivolous corruption charges against him and the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena faction.
While Raut’s counsel submitted that they have a right to criticise in a democratic space, former Maharashtra minister Aaditya Thackeray said there was nothing slanderous about the political statements made by him.
Pursuant to an earlier high court order, former Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, his son Aaditya Thackeray and Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut made their appearances in the court through their respective lawyers.
The three defendants filed their replies to the plaintiff’s application seeking an interim relief to remove the alleged defamatory content from social media platforms.
Justice Prateek Jalan listed the suit for the completion of the pleadings before the joint registrar on May 10.
During the hearing, senior advocate Devdutt Kamat, appearing for Raut, said for the first time in the history of common law, a political party is suing for defamation.
He claimed that the plaint was not maintainable and it was an attempt to gag free speech.
“Is it that in a democratic space there can’t be any criticism?” the counsel asked and said there was no question of any interim relief to be given to the plaintiff.
To this, the judge said, “We will see what is the nature of the criticism. We will see what the statements are and surely, I have due regard for freedom of speech.”
The high court issued summonses to Uddhav Thackeray, Aaditya Thackeray and Raut on March 28 and asked them to file their written submissions within 30 days.
It had also asked Google and Twitter to file their written statements within 30 days on the plea.
In his reply to the application for interim relief, Aaditya Thackeray said it is a regular practice for politicians to comment upon each other’s conduct in a political discourse and as a public figure, the plaintiff ought to take the “bouquets as well as brickbats” and that “public figures cannot be allowed to be thin-skinned as it would entirely stifle all criticism of them”.
“The entire suit is nothing but a malicious attempt at clamping down on free political speech, which ought not to be permitted by this court. It is submitted that the allegedly slanderous statements made by defendant no. 3 (Aaditya Thackeray) are nothing but political speech and the same is protected under the right to freedom of speech under the Constitution of India,” the reply filed through advocate Naman Joshi stated.
It said the plaintiff has filed the suit in his personal capacity and not as an office-bearer of either his own political party — Shiv Sena (Shinde faction) — or the Election Commission and has made no whisper as to how he, his party or the EC has been defamed and in whose eyes.
Shewale was represented in the court through senior advocate Rajiv Nayar and lawyer Utsav Trivedi.
In the suit, Shewale has sought a permanent injunction and damages against the defendants on account of alleged false, malicious and unsubstantiated allegations levelled and circulated on social media platforms and other offline and online media.
He has said the allegations are libellous, unfounded and misconceived and tainted with collateral objectives, which were made knowingly and deliberately to harm the dignity of the plaintiff and his political party.
“The present plaint demonstrates that the defendant nos 1 to 3 have conspired with each other and with other unknown individuals or organisations to launch a series of scathing and belligerent attacks against the plaintiff and the political party which the plaintiff belongs to, that is, Shiv Sena, with the oblique motive to malign, defame and injure the plaintiff’s reputation, based on a series of blatant falsehoods and gross misrepresentations,” the plea has said.