The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed criminal defamation proceedings pending against Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in Maharashtra’s Bhiwandi magisterial court. A bench led by Justice Dipak Misra also dispensed with the personal appearance of the Congress leader before the trial court where Rahul was supposed to appear on the given date.

The bench tagged his petition with those filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who had also challenged the constitutional validity of penal provisions on defamation.

Contending that Mahatama Gandhi’s assassination was a result of “destructive philosophy” of those associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Rahul had moved the Supreme Court for quashing the criminal case lodged against him for his comments on RSS during an election rally last year.

As per the petitioner, the assassination of Mahatama Gandhi was a result of destructive philosophy of the persons associated with the RSS. It was also clearly suggested (in the speech) that the assassins were associated or affiliated with the RSS,” said Rahul while justifying his speech in Bhiwandi in March 2014.

Stating that he never accused RSS as an “institution of crime,” the Congress leader told Court it was proved beyond a shadow of doubt that RSS had been consistently pursuing a majoritarian agenda and attached utmost importance to the propagation of its self-proclaimed version of Hindu culture and nationalism.

The RSS is a force behind the BJP as a political party and provides both the ideological ammunition as also the cadre for the elections. It was, therefore, essential for the petitioner to state the position of his party dearly and unambiguously before his audience” the petition, settled by senior advocate Mahalakshmi Pavani and others, added.

He said it was “futile to expect or to suggest that RSS would not figure in any major election speech by a speaker opposing the BJP in the electoral arena and that once the RSS had chosen to actively participate in the electoral process, it was bound to attract all legitimate criticism.

RSS worker Rajesh Kunte had filed a complaint against Rahul under criminal defamation charges of Sections 499 and 500 of IPC. After he was issued a summons by a Bhiwandi magisterial court, Rahul had requested the Bombay High Court to quash the proceedings but his plea was dismissed on March 10.

Taking a cue from Swamy, Rahul had filed the criminal writ petition in the top court, challenging the constitutional validity of Sections 499 and 500 in IPC. It is on Swamy’s petition that the SC has sought the government’s stand on de-criminalizing defamation.