Ramesh Gaichor and Sagar Gorkhe, accused persons arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, told a court on Wednesday that criticising the government did not amount to sedition, and it was within their rights to do so, Bar and Bench reported.

They made the argument at a hearing of their bail plea in a special National Investigation Agency court.

The Bhima Koregaon case pertains to caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018. Gaichor and Gorkhe were among the organisers of the Elgar Parishad event, held on December 31, 2017, following which the violence took place.

The two have been were charged with sedition and sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Nihalsingh Rathore, the counsel representing the two accused told the court on Wednesday that the material submitted by the National Investigation Agency against them failed to establish a case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Bar and Bench reported.

The investigation agency had claimed that a skit – that revolved around governance and democracy – performed by Gaichor and Gorkhe at the Elgaar Parishad in Pune on December 31, 2017, had affected peace in the region.

“Except for the comments I [Gaichor and Gorkhe] made against a political party and comments against policies, there is nothing against me,” Rathore argued. “Whatever I have said to criticise the government is very well within my right of freedom of speech and also my duty.”

The lawyer also recounted other speeches made at the Elgaar Parishad event that had criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party, India Today reported.

“I was merely saying that the party is casteist in nature,” he said. “Where is the sedition in this? They are saying they will defend [the] constitution and democracy. I have every right to criticise the government. BJP-RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] do not constitute [the] country. They have taken a jibe against [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi...Against his policies. How is this sedition?”

He added that the National Investigation Agency was unable to prove if the speeches had called for an armed rebellion, Bar and Bench reported.

“For it to be a terrorist act, there has to be violence with weapons and agenda,” Rathore said. “But in the entire event [Elgar Parishand], no one was killed, no one was called upon to be killed. There was no talk of violence at all.”

Rathore also said that the first information report against Gaichor and Gorkhe had been filed in 2018. But, they were arrested only when the National Investigation Agency took over the case in 2020. The lawyer pointed out that even the chargesheet filed in September against the two accused was also “silent” on the alleged terrorist acts.

Special Judge DE Kothalikar will hear National Investigation Agency’s arguments on the bail plea on December 1.