PM degree row: Gujarat high Court refuses urgent hearing to revision pleas of Arvind Kejriwal, Sanjay Singh against summons

The High Court of Gujarat on Monday refused to grant urgent hearing of September 21 for the petitions filed by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh challenging the summons issued against them by a Magistrate court for their alleged defamatory statements related to the academic degree of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The single-judge Bench of Justice Samir J. Dave refused to pass any instructions to the Registry on urgent circulation and listing of the petitions for September 21, which were filed on the grounds that the Magistrate court was set to take up the criminal defamation matters on September 23.

Filed through Advocates Aum Kotwal and Farrukh Khan on behalf of Kejriwal and Singh, the petitions challenged the September 14 order of Additional Sessions Judge J.M. Brahmbhatt at Ahmedabad, who had dismissed their revision applications on the defamation complaint filed by the Gujarat University.

The ASJ had observed in his 21-page order that the Magistrate court had considered all facts and circumstances before issuing the summons and there was nothing illegal or perverse in the summoning orders.

The defamation complaint by GU accused the Delhi Chief Minister and the AAP MP of making derogatory statements against the varsity for not disclosing the post graduation degree of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On April 17, 2023, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Jayeshbhai Chovatiya had issued summons against the two politicians, noting that the statements made by the Delhi Chief Minister and the AAP MP were prima facie defamatory.

The ACMM court further took note of the oral and digital evidence shared in a pen drive, comprising the tweets and speeches made by Kejriwal after the Gujarat High Court verdict in the matter.

Earlier on August 29, the Gujarat High Court had directed an Ahmedabad court to transfer to a different court, the petitions filed by Kejriwal and Singh against summons issued in a defamation case.

The Single-Judge Bench of Justice Samir Dave directed the Principal Sessions Judge of Ahmedabad to decide within 10 days, the matter related to the defamation case filed by the Gujarat University over the alleged derogatory and sarcastic remarks made by the two AAP leaders against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The High Court further permitted both Kejriwal and Singh to seek adjournment in the metropolitan court on August 31. The Gujarat University has undertaken to grant its consent for the same.

The Counsel appearing for the AAP leaders pressed for early hearing on revision applications and submitted that Court No 16 in the city sessions court, which was an in-charge court, did not agree to prepone the hearing and rejected their request.

He said the in-charge court refused preponement on the grounds that the matter required a long hearing and it should be conducted by a regular court, the presiding officer of which was on leave till September 15.

The counsel further contended that the metropolitan court has recorded the plea of both the accused through their lawyers and fixed August 31 for recording of evidence, practically commencing the trial.

The Counsel appearing for Kejriwal further submitted that there were various grounds to challenge the metropolitan court’s decision on GU’s defamation complaint.

He said the varsity was a State under Article 12 of the Constitution and hence, it cannot be said to be a person who was defamed. GU submitted that it did not have any problem with early hearing of the revision applications of the accused and also did not insist on their presence in the court.

On April 17, a Gujarat court had issued summons to Kejriwal and Singh in a criminal defamation complaint filed by Gujarat University for making derogatory statements in connection with the controversy regarding the academic degree of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Jayeshbhai Chovatiya passed the order, while dealing with a criminal complaint filed by the Gujarat University through its Registrar Dr. Piyush M.Patel.

The complaint was filed against Kejriwal and Singh under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code.

The court said it found a prima facie case against the leaders on the grounds of certain statements made by them after the Gujarat High Court order quashed and set aside the 2016 order of the Central Information Commission (CIC), directing the Gujarat University to provide information regarding degrees in the name of Narendra Damodar Modi to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

The complaint accused them of making sarcastic and defamatory statements in press conferences and on Twitter handles targeting the university over Modi’s degree.

“If a degree is there and it is correct then why the degree is not being given… Why Gujarat and Delhi University are not giving degrees? The degree is not being given because the degree may be fake… If the Prime Minister studied from Delhi University, Gujarat University, then Gujarat University should celebrate that our boy has become the Prime Minister of the country. …it is trying to hide his degree…[University] put his all to prove a fake degree (of PM) as right,” the varsity quoted Kejriwal as saying on different social media handles.

The complaint further stated that immediately after the High Court order, Kejriwal made defamatory statements against the Gujarat University in a press conference despite being aware of the fact that the Prime Minister’s degree has been published on the varsity’s website long back.

The University also put up a contention in its complainant that Kejriwal made the statements in his ‘personal’ capacity and not in ‘affairs of the State’.

Agreeing with this submission, the court ordered deletion of words ‘Chief Minister’ from Kejriwal’s name in the cause title of the case.

Further, the court also observed that prima facie, both Kejriwal and Singh appeared to have targeted the Gujarat University as the words uttered by them were sarcastic and meant to target the Gujarat University’s image in the minds of people.

It observed that it was natural that due to the statements of the accused, who knew the credit of Gujarat University, all the people who did not know Gujarat University would develop distrust towards the varsity.

The court further opined that if the political office bearers, instead of fulfilling their duty to their people, did any work directly or indirectly for their personal enmity or selfishness, to harm the opponents or the same person, and if they uttered any such words, those words would be considered as violation of the trust placed by the people and the words uttered would be considered personal.

(Case title: Arvind Kejriwal vs Piyush Patel)