A court in Delhi on Wednesday granted bail to Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwini Upadhyay in connection with an event where inflammatory slogans calling for violence against Muslims were shouted at a rally in Jantar Mantar on August 8, Live Law reported.
The police had arrested Upadhyay and five others from different parts of Delhi and its neighbouring areas on Tuesday morning. The five other men were identified as Deepak Singh, Vinod Sharma, Vineet Bajpai, Preet Singh and Deepak Kumar. They have been charged with promoting religious enmity and Section 51 of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority Act for violating Covid-19 protocols.
Upadhyay was remanded to two days of judicial custody, following which the Supreme Court advocate sought bail.
Sunday’s event had been organised by Upadhyay as part of an effort he called the “Bharat Jodo (Unite India) movement”. It ostensibly aimed to urge the authorities to put an end to “colonial-era laws” by establishing a uniform civil code.
However, videos from the event site, less than 2 km from Parliament, showed a group of people shouting slogans such as: “Jab mulle kaate jayenge, Ram-Ram chillayenge [Muslims will chant Ram-Ram when they will be slaughtered].”
During Wednesday’s hearing, Duty Metropolitan Magistrate at Patiala House Court Udbhav Kumar Jain asked the BJP leader to deposit a surety of Rs 50,000.
“As far as the offence u/s [under section] 153A [promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc] of IPC [Indian Penal Code] is concerned except for mere assertion, there is nothing on record to show that the alleged hate speech to promote enmity between different groups was done in the presence or at the behest of the applicant/accused,” the judge said in his order.
He also said there was no chance that Upadhyay will abscond. “Conspiracy is no doubt hatched behind closed doors and that the investigation in the present matter is at nascent stage that however, does not imply that liberty of a citizen be curtailed on mere assertions and apprehension,” the order added.
Earlier in the day, the Delhi Police told the judge that the BJP leader was a speaker at the event and they are investigating whether he was present when anti-Muslim slogans were shouted, according to The Indian Express.
The public prosecutor told the court that the gravity of the offence and the pandemic situation have to be considered, Bar and Bench reported. “It was an unlawful assembly,” he added. “Even if in his presence, somebody has given hate speech...”
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, representing Upadhyay, said the BJP leader was not present in Jantar Mantar when participants were shouting inflammatory slogans. Upadhyay was in Ghaziabad, he claimed.
“I will be the last person to represent somebody who made such reprehensible slogans,” Singh told the court. “If the allegation was, I was the organiser and this took place in front of me, I would not have represented him…He is a very respected person…It is a very serious case. Police can’t indiscriminately arrest him. He should be released today itself. This is an illegal incarceration.”
Senior advocates Sidharth Luthra, Pradeep Rai, Ashwani Dubey and Gopal Sankaranarayanan also argued for the BJP leader in the case, according to reports.
Luthra said one cannot say that Upadhyay, who had left the site, had the same intention as the participants who committed the alleged offences. “Very often in life we may be a part of a public function, that does not mean that if a fracas breaks out when we are not there, we should be held responsible,” he continued. “That should not be held against him.”
The prosecutor, however, continued to emphasise that Upadhyay was a speaker at the event. “His version is that he had left,” the prosecutor said. “When he left is a matter of investigation. There is no evidence as such that he left. It is their version. Exactly what is the nexus, who gave the speeches? We are at a nascent stage of the investigation.”
The BJP leader should have himself filed a complaint with the police, the prosecutor said. But, Dubey claimed that Upadhyay had written to the police, demanding that those involved in the incident be arrested. “He eventually gave a three-page letter and pendrive to police,” the counsel said. “It is not that he has no respect for law.”
- Saba Naqvi: To watch the Jantar Mantar videos is to know what hate looks like
- Journalist alleges that crowd at Delhi event tried to force him to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’