The Delhi High Court on Wednesday asked activist Umar Khalid’s lawyer if it was proper to use the word “jumla”, which broadly translates to an empty promise, while speaking about the prime minister, Live Law reported.
Khalid allegedly used the word during a speech in Maharashtra’s Amravati district in February 2020. The Delhi Police have alleged that the speech was a part of a conspiracy to incite riots in the city from February 23 to February 29 that year.
Soon after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the then Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah had said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made a “jumla” when he commented that Rs 15 lakh will be deposited to each Indian’s bank account if black money stashed in foreign banks could be brought back. Since then, Opposition leaders have often used the word to criticise the Modi-led government.
On Wednesday, Khalid’s lawyer Trideep Pais told the High Court that criticism of the government could not be considered a crime.
Justice Rajnish Bhatnagar of the Delhi High Court also questioned Khalid’s use of the word “changa” in his speech. The Punjabi word means “good” and the phrase “sab changa si [It’s all good]” became popular – and is often used in sarcasm – since Modi made the comment while addressing the Indian-American community at an event in Houston in 2019.
On Wednesday too, Pais said that Khalid had used the phrase as satire.
He told the court: “583 days in prison with [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act] charges was not envisaged for a person who speaks against the government. We cannot become so intolerant. At this rate, people will not be able to speak.”
Justice Bhatnagar, however, said that there has to be “some line for criticism” and some “Lakshman Rekha”, according to Bar and Bench.
The court also questioned the usage of the Hindi and Urdu words “krantikari [revolutionary]” and “inquilab [revolution]” and the phrase “oonth pahad ke neeche aa gaya”. The phrase literally translates to “the camel came down from the mountain”. Pais told the court that it was used to refer to the government that had been unwilling to speak to anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protestors.
The lawyer then told the court that the first information report in the case was registered against Khalid after the Delhi Police saw footage of his purported speech on news channels Republic TV and News18.
He also pointed out that Republic TV had told a lower court that the footage of the speech was not its own, but was tweeted by Bharatiya Janata Party Information Technology Cell chief Amit Malviya.
“The speech is tweeted by a prominent politician and this has formed the basis of the FIR,” Pais said. “No one has seen the speech when the FIR was registered.”
In the previous hearing on April 22, the High Court had observed that some of Khalid’s remarks during his speech in Amravati were prima facie “obnoxious” and “offensive”.
Khalid was arrested on September 14, 2020, after clashes broke out between the supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing the law in North East Delhi in February 2020. He has been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and has been in custody since then.