Remarks against PM: SC orders Khera’s release on interim bail till 28 Feb; Cong slams ‘dictatorship’

NEW DELHI, 23 Feb: The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that Congress leader Pawan Khera, arrested by the Assam Police for his alleged remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, be released on interim bail till 28 February.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said that, upon being produced before the competent magistrate in Delhi, Khera would be released on interim bail.

“The above order will remain operational till Tuesday (28 February),” the bench, also comprising Justices MR Shah and PS Narasimha, said and listed the matter for 27 February.

The apex court issued notices to the states of Assam and Uttar Pradesh, seeking their responses on Khera’s plea seeking clubbing of multiple FIRs lodged against him in Assam, Lucknow and Varanasi for his alleged remarks against the prime minister.

Senior advocate AM Singhvi, appearing for Khera, said the Congress leader had apologised for his remarks on the prime minister on the very same day and the offences alleged against him in these FIRs do not require arrest.

He said the choice of words used and the sections invoked against him do not match the offences alleged.

“It will have straightaway impact on the latitude of free speech,” Singhvi said.

Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Assam Police, played the audio-video clip of the alleged remarks in the open court and said that Khera cannot use such “derogatory words” against a democratically elected prime minister of the country.

Bhati told the court that Khera has been arrested and will be produced before a competent magistrate during the day for transit remand.

The top court took up the matter at 3 pm, within an hour of Singhvi mentioning it for urgent listing.

Earlier in the day, Khera was arrested at the Delhi airport after being deplaned from a flight to Raipur in connection with his alleged remarks against Modi, made at a press conference on 17 February in Mumbai. The Delhi Police said he was detained at the request of the Assam Police.

Khera, against whom a case has been registered in Assam, was asked by the Delhi Police to deplane. Congress leaders accompanying him sat on the tarmac in protest and resisted efforts to take him away without an arrest warrant.

Senior Delhi Police officials later handed them a document from the Assam Police seeking their help in arresting Khera.

Congress leader Randeep Surjewala accompanied Khera to a police station at the airport, where there was a huge deployment of CISF.

A case has been registered at the Haflong police station in Assam against Khera under various sections of the IPC for his alleged remarks against the prime minister.

“We are all on the @IndiGo6E flight 6E 204 to Raipur and all of a sudden my colleague @Pawankhera has been asked to deplane,” Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate, who was also on the flight, said on Twitter.

“What sort of high handedness is this? Is there any rule of law? On what grounds is this being done and under whose order?” she said.

Cong slams ‘dictatorship’

The Congress on Thursday accused the government of reducing India’s democracy to “Hitlar-shahi” and “dictatorship” as it reacted angrily to the arrest of Pawan Khera, but the ruling BJP shrugged off the criticism, saying the opposition party’s leaders should not live in the misconception that they are above the law.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge lashed out at the government for the arrest, claiming that it is part of a pattern. “Notice is given to opposition members if they raise issues in Parliament and Enforcement Directorate raids are conducted on our leaders in Chhattisgarh before the plenary session,” he said.

“Today our media chairman (Khera) was forcibly deplaned and arrested. The Modi government has reduced India’s democracy to ‘Hitler-shahi’. We strongly condemn this dictatorship,” Kharge tweeted in Hindi.

Congress leader KC Venugopal accused the BJP of targeting the party’s plenary session and asked if India has become a banana republic.

Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav slammed the BJP, saying this is the way it works as the “ruling party has no faith in law, constitution and democracy.” It spends so much money on social media to target him, he alleged, noting that a member of his party was arrested for speaking against the BJP.

The BJP hit back at the Congress for protesting the police action, saying the opposition party’s leaders should not live in the “misconception” that they are above the law, and criticised them for their agitation on the Delhi airport tarmac.

“Whatever is done is done lawfully. Congress leaders should not live under this misconception that they are above the law,” BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia told reporters.

He said that the Congress is playing the “victim card” after using derogatory words against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his family members.

The BJP leader said that Congress leaders “flouted law” by starting protests on the Delhi airport tarmac and endangered the lives of fellow passengers. People were inconvenienced by the Congress’ protests, he said.

Condemning the arrest and deplaning of Khera, Venugopal said, “It is totally condemnable the way they are doing these things. We are all going to Raipur for the plenary session. Pawan Khera was also travelling with us. Suddenly they deplaned Pawan Khera without any valid reason.”

“After half-an-hour, the Delhi Police comes and says they have to hand him (Khera) over to Assam Police. We asked if there is an FIR, arrest warrant or any document, but nothing is there, only oral orders,” the Congress’ general secretary in-charge organisation said.

“How can this happen? Has India become a banana republic?” he asked. (PTI)