Allegation that Voting Strategy of a Party Is Sold Off sans any foundational basis, Injures Its Reputation: Delhi High Court in RS Polls

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The Delhi High Court has observed that alleging that the voting strategy of a political party has been "sold off", without any foundational basis, deeply causes irreparable harm, loss and damage to the reputation of the individual/party concerned and also encroaches the right to privacy. 

Justice Anoop Kumar Mendiratta made the following observations while restraining Vinay Mishra, Aam Aadmi Party MLA from Dwarka and Election In-Charge for the State of Rajasthan for the said party, from publishing or circulating any defamatory statements in relation to the tweets made against Rashtriya Loktantrik MP Hanuman Beniwal and other party leaders without any clear and cogent evidence. 

The tweets in question related to the Rajya Sabha polls. 

The plaintiffs alleged that since the Rajya Sabha elections were around the corner, i.e., on 10.06.2022, the Rashtriya Loktantra Party (RLP) took the decision to vote for an independent candidate by the name of "Subhash Chandra". 

However, Vinay Mishra while quoting the same tweet started a "vicious campaign" against the plaintiffs and their party with an intent to prejudice, damage and cause loss of name and reputation to Hanuman Beniwal and RLP. The Plaintiffs also alleged that Vinay Mishra morphed and used fictitious images and without any justification made defamatory statements against the plaintiffs. 

It was also argued that the allegations made by Vinay Mishra on social media without any foundation and with an intent to injure the reputation of the plaintiffs and caused hatred amongst the people of Rajasthan by the alleged tweets. 

The court ruled that the defendant No.1 and 2 could not be permitted to inflict injury on the reputation of the Plaintiffs by virtue of re-tweeting similar tweets which appear to be calculated to injure the reputation of the plaintiffs by exposing them to an adverse opinion or ridicule in the eyes of the public. 

"It cannot be ignored that unfounded allegations in print or electronic media can be damaging forever, if there is no opportunity to vindicate one’s reputation. The voting strategy of an individual or of a political party or their nominees is purely based upon the ideology and policy of the political party or an individual, and alleging that the same had been sold off, without any foundational basis, deeply causes an irreparable harm, loss and damage to the reputation of the individual/party concerned and clearly encroaches the right of privacy", observed the court. 

On the right of each citizen of freedom of speech an expression, the court held that the same is subject to reasonable restrictions as enumerated under Article 19(1)(a), i.e., speech in the interest of public decency or morality or in relation to defamation or incitement of an offence.  

The court observed, "This freedom needs to be exercised with circumspection and care and cannot be permitted to violate the rights of other citizens and to jeopardize their public interest. More so, in case of political functionaries, who spend their lifetime for building their image in the public, the same cannot be permitted to be tumbled by baseless, defamatory statements by any political entity/individual for petty gains."

Court also considered the advent of the internet, which has a significant impact on the viewers and followers and molded, to a large extent, public opinion on vital issues of political and national importance. 

Court thus restrained the defendants from republishing, releasing, transmitting, distributing or publishing, circulating through print or electronic media any defamatory statements with regard to the plaintiffs.