The Supreme Court on Friday allowed investigation officers to continue with their inquiry into the Bhima Koregaon violence earlier this year, reported Live Law. The bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud rejected the plea for an inquiry by a Special Investigation Team into the arrests of activists in the case. The judgement was 2:1 with Justice Chandrachud dissenting.
The court also extended the house arrest of five activists by four weeks. After that period is over, they can approach the trial court.
“It is not a case of arrest because of dissent,” Justice Khanwilkar said in their verdict on a plea seeking the immediate release of the activists. Khanwilkar was speaking on behalf of himself and Misra. “The accused persons have no say in seeking investigation of their choice. They cannot choice the manner of arrest.”
He added that they have refrained from commenting on factual issues as it will cause prejudice.
Chandrachud said the majority technicality should not be allowed to override substantive justice, and added that the case should be investigated by a Special Investigation Team. “The arrest has infringed the dignity of individuals and it is a fit case for SIT probe,” said Chandrachud. “The voice of opposition can’t be muzzled. Conduct of Pune Police fortifies an impression that investigation is not fair. The police briefing to media has become a source of manipulating public opinion.”
Five activists were arrested on June 6 and five more on August 28 as part of the Pune Police’s investigation into violence between Marathas and Dalits during an event in Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1. A day after the second set of arrests, five citizens filed a petition before the top court to seek their release. Later, an intervention application was also filed on behalf of the five activists arrested earlier.
Activists Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao, who were held in August, are currently under house arrest. The ones arrested in June were Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson and Sudhir Dhawale.
In the hearings, the Maharashtra Police defended the arrest on the grounds that the accused were planning large-scale violence as part of the agenda of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). They had earlier claimed the activists were involved in the Elgar Parishad in Pune that was followed by the caste-related violence in Bhima Koregaon on January 1.
The police have said the activists’ speeches at the event were meant to incite hatred and claimed to have seized thousands of letters exchanged among “underground” and “overground” Maoists. Two retired judges who organised the event have said that the arrested activists had nothing to do with the event.
Those politicising the matter must apologise, says Amit Shah
After the Supreme Court verdict, Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah criticised the Congress for supporting the activists and asked the party to clear its stand on the matter of “urban Naxalism”. “Those who stooped down to the level of politicising an issue of national security have been exposed by the Honourable Supreme Court’s decision today,” he said. “India is a vibrant democracy with a healthy culture of debate, discussion and dissent. However, plotting against the country with the intent to harm our citizens is not one of these. Those who politicised this issue need to apologise.”
He attacked the Congress for allegedly supporting Maoists, activists and corrupt elements. “There is only one place for idiocy and it’s called the Congress,” Shah tweeted. “Support ‘Bharat Ke Tukde Tukde Gang’, Maoists, fake activists and corrupt elements. Defame all those who are honest and working. Welcome to Rahul Gandhi’s Congress.”
Shah said, “When the Mumbai police arrested the Maoists who wanted to create caste problems in the country and was conspiring to kill PM Modi, the entire opposition started questioning the arrest and said that free speech is at stake.”
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the action against the activists was not politically motivated. “We have sufficient material to convict them,” he said, according to NDTV. “Today’s verdict by SC vindicates our stand against urban Maoists. In fact, this was absolutely a conspiracy against the nation. SC pointed out that it’s not a political conspiracy. SC also appreciated that state govt or GoI isn’t trying to curb dissenting voice.”
Calling the court verdict a victory for India, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said: “Those who work against national security do not have the luxury of choosing what kind of prosecution they will face.”
Patra, who spoke at a press conference in New Delhi, said the BJP’s stand on Maoists, Maoism and national security had been vindicated in the Supreme Court. Accusing Gandhi of acting as an advocate for the “arrested Naxals”, Patra asked why the Congress chief was frequently seen supporting “anti-India forces” instead of patriots.