Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal talks to Smita Gupta about the Rahul Gandhi defamation case, on the BJP’s brand of nationalism and Balochistan.
Why has the Congress now decided to take on the RSS in the Rahul Gandhi defamation case?
The case was filed at the instance of the RSS, hoping to get political mileage from the controversy (and with) an eye on the upcoming State elections, the most important being the one in Uttar Pradesh. We didn’t seek to be prosecuted, they decided to prosecute us on a case (whose subject) has been part of public discourse since 1948!
But you have now decided to stand trial
Why would Rahul Gandhi not stand up for what he has said? … It’s important to reiterate our public position on an issue that will ultimately decide the future of India. That issue is: Hinduism has no relationship to Hindutva; to be a Hindu is a way of life. To embrace Hindutva is to embrace an obscurantist, backward looking, divisive ideology that seeks to polarise society through identity politics.
Why spend two years in the Supreme Court if you are going back to a lower court?
We didn’t. There were petitions pending in the Supreme Court filed under Article 32 which challenged the constitutional validity of Section 499 of the Penal Code — that means criminal defamation should be declared unconstitutional and the only remedy should be a civil remedy. That matter was pending and therefore all criminal prosecutions brought to court were not proceeded with. It took almost two years in deciding that matter. And, therefore, the Special Leave Petition came up after that decision.
The Congress has rejected the RSS-BJP’s suggestion that Rahul Gandhi made a U-turn in this case; but the BJP-RSS line appeared to get more traction
I don’t think that’s true. If you access the Twitter world, they are getting the short end of the stick. In the print media, yes … Their message is always stronger because they are more abusive than us.
I say this with some concern and also anguish: some sections of the media have been co-opted, compromised … I think the media was far more open and non-partisan before 2014 than it is today.
The tiranga yatras, the Congress icons, the Pakistan bashing — they are all about occupying the nationalist space …
What Modi has achieved no one else has achieved. The price of dal has gone up to over Rs. 200 which the Congress could not do in 70 years, he has done in 70 days …
You have not responded to those issues directly …
People will see through it.
Perhaps people need to be nudged a bit
We are nudging them, like we are saying that the RSS ke logon ne goli mari. Why was Gandhiji murdered? (because) he didn’t want the division of India. He was ready to go on fast to death, he openly said so. The RSS that believed that Gandhi was taking a pro-Pakistani position [and] was not favourably inclined to Gandhiji at that time. It’s a fact of history.