The Supreme Court on Thursday granted interim bail to Congress Spokesperson Pawan Khera after he was booked by Assam and Uttar Pradesh (UP) Police for allegedly making derogatory remarks against Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi at a press conference.
Khera was on his way to a meeting of the All India Congress Committee when he was deboarded from a plane bound for Raipur in Chhattisgarh at Delhi airport. He was detained by Assam Police on Thursday based on a first information report (FIR) registered against him.
The Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud and Justices P S Narasimha and M R Shah directed a Delhi court to grant Khera relief after he approached the top court on Friday.
“To protect the petitioner until he applies for regular bail before the jurisdictional court concerning all FIRs, we direct until the next date of listing the petitioner shall be released on interim bail by Delhi court this evening. The above order shall stay in operation until Tuesday,” the court ordered.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Khera, said FIRs have been registered against Khera in many places.
“Lucknow, Assam, Varanasi ... Assam Police deplaned him and now he is at the airport and is to be taken to Dwarka court,” said Singhvi.
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“Delhi airport?” the CJI asked.
"Yes. Now UP Police, too, will come,” said Singhvi.
The court also sought a response from UP and Assam on Khera’s prayer to club multiple FIRs registered against him in those states.
“We accept that taken at face value, the spoken words do not lead to Sections invoked in the FIR. Hence, we order to issue notice on the prayer to transfer and club all FIRs registered against Khera. Notice to Assam and the State of UP,” the order read.
Khera has been booked for offences under Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, etc) and Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The press conference in question is the one where Khera had allegedly messed up the PM’s name while demanding a joint parliamentary probe into the Adani-Hindenburg row.
“If Narasimha Rao could form a joint parliamentary committee (JPC), if Atal Bihari Vajpayee could form a JPC, then what problem does Narendra Gautamdas... sorry Damodardas Modi have?” Khera had asked.
The video in question was played before the Bench by Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the State of Assam.
“The entire press conference has to be seen. It is a derogatory remark made to incite disaffection against the PM. After all, he is the duly elected PM of the country,” she said.
Singhvi said Khera had not deliberately flubbed PM’s name but it was a slip of tongue.
“I genuinely got confused whether it is Gautamdas or Damodardas…,” said Khera, apologising for the mistake.
“Please protect him from arrest,” said Singhvi.
Singhvi also said that for any amount of political dialogue, Sections 153(a) or 295(a) of the IPC cannot be invoked.
Bhati said the statement by Khera was intentional.
“Please see the demeanour of the statement made. It will be clear (whether) it is intentional or not. Please see the video. See the facial expression... he is smiling. He says kaam hai yeh and naam hai yeh... he is the PM in question,” said Bhati.
In his reply, Singhvi said, “He did a play on words which he shouldn’t have. This came on television. He also said I made a mistake.”