Congress chief Rahul Gandhi pleaded 'not guilty' in a Bhiwandi court on Tuesday in connection with a defamation case filed against him by an RSS worker in 2014.
The Congress president's plea came after the court framed charges against him and read them out in the courtroom after he took the stand. The court has set August 10 as next date of hearing. The case was filed against Rahul after he said - at a rally in Bhiwandi in 2014 - that the RSS was involved in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
As he took the stand, judge AI Sheikh said: "On March 6, 2014 in a rally held for elections at Bhiwandi, you defamed the organisation to which the complainant belongs. Your speech, which was telecast on channels and also published in newspapers, damaged the reputation of the complainant and his organization and you thereby committed an offence under sections 499 and 500 of IPC (defamation). Do you plead guilty?"
The 47-year-old replied, "I plead not guilty".
"Let the BJP and RSS slap as many cases as they want against me, we will fight them and win," said the Congress president to the media upon exiting the courtroom.
"(The complainant) says you defamed complainant's organisation, that is RSS. Reputation of complainant and organisation was harmed ... Have you received copies (of this)?" said the judge, to which Rahul replied in the affirmative.
Last month, Bhiwandi court asked the Congress president to appear before it on June 12 to record his plea. At that time, the court heard arguments on Rahul's application and sought a detailed recording of evidence instead of a 'summary trial'.
While the trial in such cases is normally held summarily, Rahul filed an application in April seeking that it be a 'summons trial'.
"A summary trial is short and will be completed with just submitting the written arguments. We have sought for a summons trial which would go into the in-depth recording of the evidence," said Rahul's lawyer at the time.
Rahul Gandhi had earlier moved the Supreme Court seeking quashing of the case. The apex court however said in July 2016 said the Congress president should not have resorted to "collective denunciation" of an organisation and would have to face trial if he did not express regret for his remark.
The Congress president declined to accept the top court's suggestion and expressed willingness to face the trial.
The Congress President had in 2016 requested the Supreme Court to dismiss the case but he later withdrew the petition, telling the court that he was ready to be tried on charges of defaming the RSS. The RSS had said at the time it could drop the suit if Mr Gandhi stated publicly that he does not blame it as an institution for the death of the Mahatma. Mr Gandhi, however, told the court that it is not an option.
"I stand by each and every word. I will never take my words back... I am ready to go to trial," Mr Gandhi had said.