SC refuses to quash cases against BJP’s H Raja for comments on Periyar, Karunanidhi

The top court stated that Raja's statements could incite the followers of Periyarism, potentially leading to violence and public disorder.

BySouth First Desk

Published May 14, 2024 | 7:00 PMUpdatedMay 14, 2024 | 7:00 PM

SC refuses to quash cases against BJP’s H Raja for comments on Periyar, Karunanidhi

The Supreme Court in a significant ruling on Tuesday, 14 May, highlighted the need for politicians to exercise caution in their public statements, while refusing to quash the criminal cases against the BJP National Secretary H Raja for his alleged derogatory remarks against Dravidian movement leader Periyar, former Tamil Nadu Minister M Karunanidhi and others.

During the hearing of an SLP challenging the Madras High Court’s order, the Bench of Justices Hrishikesh Roy and Prashant Kumar Mishra emphasized the importance of politicians being circumspect about their comments made in public.

“People in politics have to be circumspect about what they utter; somehow we are reducing the level of discourse,” Justice Roy said, as quoted by Live Law.

Senior Advocate Dama Seshadri Naidu represented the petitioner during the proceedings.

The High Court had declined to quash the criminal cases under Section 153 (Wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot), Section 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) and Section 509 (Word gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) against Raja.

The BJP leader had allegedly made “disparaging” comments against Periyar, M karunanidhi, DMK leader Kanimozhi, several officials of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department and their wives in a public speech and through social media posts in 2018.

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‘Irresponsible and damaging comments’

These offenses are currently being tried by the Additional Special Court for Trial of Criminal Cases relating to MP/MLAs.

Before the trial commenced, the petitioner had approached the Madras High Court in 2023 seeking the quashing of FIRs.

However, the High Court on 29 August last year refused to quash the 11 FIRs registered across Tamil Nadu against Raja, citing his history of making “irresponsible and damaging comments”.

Raja had come up with an explanation that he had made such comments due to his anguish at the time, which the court refused to accept.

Justice Venkatesh reminded Raja of his status as a public figure, asking him to maintain decorum in his language, even during moments of distress.

“This Court must necessarily take judicial notice of the fact that the petitioner has the proclivity to make irresponsible and damaging comments and that is the reason why he gets into trouble,” the court said, as quoted by Live Law.

“This Court is reminded of the sagacious words of Thiruvalluvar. To put it in simple English- Whatever besides you leave unguarded, guard your tongue; otherwise, errors of speech and the consequent misery will ensue. This warning given by Thiruvalluvar perfectly applies to the petitioner,” the court had observed, according to the report.

Raja had earlier sparked controversy with his tweets directed against EV Ramasamy, also known as Periyar, saying that statues of the atheist leader should be broken. He had also addressed Periyar as a caste fanatic.

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‘Remarks bordered on hate speech’

The court underscored that while individuals are entitled to hold differing views and ideologies from those of Periyar, they must not transgress certain boundaries.

It stated that Raja’s statements could incite the followers of Periyarism, potentially leading to violence and public disorder.

Stating that Raja’s remarks bordered on hate speech and that the facts constituted an offence, the court refused to dismiss the charges.

“This statement made by the petitioner clearly has crossed the limits and it is prima facie capable of causing disturbance to the public order. The tweet certainly hovers around hate speech…,” the court said, as quoted by Live Law.

The court had also condemned Raja’s remarks against the officers of the HR&CE department, labelling them as defamatory and scandalous, particularly noting their demeaning nature towards women.

Highlighting the power of words, the court stressed that while individuals in prominent political positions may critique policies and shortcomings of opposition parties, they should refrain from attacking the personal characters/status.

It emphasized that words hold immense power and can profoundly impact a large segment of society. The court then dismissed Raja’s petition to quash the proceedings and ordered the case to be transferred to the Special Court for MP/MLA cases in Erode.

Subsequently, the trial commenced, and Raja’s petition to quash the case was once again submitted.

“In its order last month, the High Court had remarked, ‘The perusal of the petition to quash is purely on factual aspects or the grounds, which are already canvassed in the earlier quash petition. Hence, this Court finds no merits in this petition,” as quoted by Live Law.

In light of this, the current SLP was filed, which has now been dismissed.

(Edited by Shauqueen Mizaj)