The Supreme Court on Thursday directed a magistrate in Delhi to release Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera on interim bail in a case of making alleged disparaging remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Live Law reported.

Hours later, the Delhi court granted Khera interim bail on a bond of Rs 30,000, ANI reported. The interim bail will remain in effect till the next date of hearing on February 28.

Khera had filed a petition on the Supreme Court after the Assam Police deplaned and arrested him at the Delhi Airport on Thursday afternoon. Khera was heading to Raipur on an Indigo flight for the Congress’ plenary session along with other leaders of the party. After the arrest, the Assam Police said that Khera will be produced at a magistrate court in Delhi for a transit remand.

The arrest was made in a first information report filed at the Haflong Police Station in Assam’s Dima Hasao district. Samuel Changsan, a member of the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council, had alleged that Khera’s comments at a press conference last week linking Modi with industrialist Gautam Adani was part of a “wider conspiracy to degrade and destabilise our nation by defaming and disreputing the person, who is holding a high constitutional post”.

Based on this complaint, the Assam Police had booked Khera on charges of promoting enmity between different groups, making assertions prejudicial to national integration, defamation and criminal conspiracy, among others.

A similar case has been filed against Khera in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi as well.

Over the last few days, Bharatiya Janata Party members had been calling for Khera’s arrest after he allegedly insulted Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his father.

At a press conference on February 17 in Mumbai, Khera had referred to the prime minister as “Narendra Gautamdas Modi” – instead of Narendra Damodardas Modi – in an apparent jibe to link him with industrialist Gautam Adani.

Khera had made the remark while criticising the Modi government over the crisis triggered by a report of American firm Hindenburg Research, alleging that the Adani Group improperly used offshore tax havens and manipulated stock. Opposition leaders have accused the prime minister of favouring Gautam Adani, the founder of the conglomerate.

After being granted bail, Khera told reporters that he had been deboarded from the plane and arrested illegally as he was not provided with any notice or copy of the first information report against him, ANI reported.

“I have complete trust in the judicial system which protected my freedom of expression today,” he said.

At the hearing in the Supreme Court, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud also issued notices to the Bharatiya Janata Party governments in Assam and Uttar Pradesh asking them to file responses to Khera’s petition demanding that the cases against him be clubbed.

Chandrachud noted that a similar course of action had been taken in the multiple cases registered against television anchor Arnab Goswami.

Khera’s lawyer, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, contended that the filing of multiple cases amounted to deliberate harassment. He also argued that the charges invoked by the police were not in line with the alleged offence.

Earlier on Thursday, Congress leader Supriya Shrinate said the action against Khera showed the Modi government’s dictatorial attitude. Several Congress leaders also shouted slogans against the government on the tarmac.

Khera said that he was initially told by authorities that there was a problem with his luggage.

“I said I don’t have anything except a handbag,” he added. “When I came down from the aircraft, I was told that you cannot go. Then it was said – DCP [Deputy Commissioner of Police] will meet you. I’ve been waiting for a long time. There is no trace of rules, laws and reasons.”

On its part, Indigo airlines said that there were instructions not to fly Khera to Raipur, reported NDTV.

Flagrant overreach for a joke: Congress

The Congress has vehemently opposed Khera’s arrest, with party MP Shashi Tharoor saying that it was a “flagrant overreach” if all he can be accused of is a joke.

“We have no crime of ‘lese-majeste’ [offence against head of state] in India,” Tharoor tweeted. “How can you arrest a political figure for a verbal barb?”

Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh said this was another attempt – after Enforcement Directorate raids – at derailing the plenary session of the Congress scheduled to begin from Friday. On Monday, the central agency had raided the premises of Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh that the party had described as an example of the “third-rate politics”.

“Freedom of Speech is slowly weakening in India, but Freedom AFTER Speech is fast becoming extinct,” Ramesh tweeted. “...Murder of Democratic India is the right acronym for Him [Modi].”

As the FIR was registered in Assam, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala alleged that Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was trying to prove that he is a loyalist, reported ANI.

Describing the case against Khera as fake, Surjewala asked what crime he has committed.

“We will fight for the truth and they can’t silence us,” he added. “We will fight this legally.”