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National Herald Case: Rahul and Sonia have little reason to be relieved

Saurav Datta | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:40 IST

The hearing

  • SC has accepted the Gandhis\' plea in the National Herald case, but only partially

  • The case will still go on, but the accused won\'t have to attend every hearing

  • Subramanian Swamy would be disappointed as one of his aims is to humiliate Gandhis

More in the story

  • What did the SC say?

  • Why the Gandhis can\'t heave a sigh of relief

Subramanian Swamy who has never hidden his animus against Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, must be feeling a tad disappointed, after the Supreme Court hearing in the National Herald case.

This is because the court has poured cold water on one of his primary plans - to make the mother-son duo appear before Delhi's Patiala House Court (where the main case is going on) for every hearing, and savour the 'humiliation' he had managed to cause them.

Also read - The albatross around the Gandhis' neck: what's the National Herald case?

The Congress, both in press conferences and on social media, has projected Friday's ruling by the Supreme Court as going in their favour. The claim isn't entirely true.

The SC order comes in the wake of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Motilal Vora, Sam Pitroda and journalist Suman Dubey's appeal against a 7 December 2015 Delhi High Court judgment. In that ruling, the court had declined to quash charges against all the 4, whom Swamy and Pioneer journalist J Gopkrishnan had accused of defalcating with a sum of Rs 90 crore.

The Gandhis and the others who were charged with criminal breach of trust, among others, had contended that they had not indulged in any criminal wrongdoing or financial irregularities, and that Swamy was acting purely out of personal vendetta. Hence, they asked that all charges against them, under different criminal laws, be dropped. The Congress had created a huge furore in Parliament and even taken to the streets, claiming that Swamy was acting only as a front for the Modi government.

A limited breather

The Delhi High Court had held that the Gandhis must make themselves present at every hearing in the Patiala House Court and face grilling by Swamy and other lawyers assisting him.

Going further, it had made certain observations - that the charges, on the face of it, showed a considerable degree of criminality by those at the highest echelons of India's oldest national party. And, unless Swamy's case was rigorously investigated and prosecuted, public trust would be betrayed.

In Friday's appeal, the accused also pleaded that these observations be deleted from the High Court judgment because they were premature and presumptuous since the trial had barely begun, and could affect the final outcome of the case.

Therefore, essentially, the Gandhis had 3 prayers before the apex court - quash all charges, grant a blanket exemption from personally appearing before the Patiala House Court, and direct the deletion of the allegedly prejudicial observations.

A bench of Justices JS Khehar and C Nagappan, who heard the appeal, accepted the Gandhi's plea, but only partially.

The judges held that given the seriousness of Swamy's allegations, they saw no reason to interfere with the Delhi High Court's conclusion that the trial must go on and the charges were not to be quashed.

Swamy won't have the pleasure of making the Gandhis attend every hearing in the National Herald case

However, observing that the Gandhis' mandatory presence would cause "more inconvenience than convenience" and was not essential for the trial, the bench ruled that they have to appear in court only as and when the magistrate hearing the case decided.

As for the allegedly prejudicial observations of the high court, the bench directed they be expunged from the judgment. It held:

"We are of the view, that it was not open to the High Court to record any firm conclusions, and the same ought to have been left to the Trial Court, to be rendered after recording evidence in the matter. Accordingly, we hereby expunge all final inferences and conclusions drawn by the High Court, on the various factual aspects in the matter."

If looked at in overall perspective, the Gandhis and their other co-accused have little reason to heave a sigh of relief. Because something more ominous is staring them in the face: what if Swamy manages to prove his charges in court ?

More in Catch - National Herald case: where did the Gandhis go wrong?

Gandhis in trouble: how do the arguments stack up in the National Herald case

#SoniaRahulHazirHo: Salman Khurshid says Nat'l Herald deal isn't criminal

First published: 13 February 2016, 6:11 IST
Saurav Datta @SauravDatta29

Saurav Datta works in the fields of media law and criminal justice reform in Mumbai and Delhi.