Later, the Supreme Court directed the Delhi magistrate court to grant interim bail till February 28 to Khera, who was arrested in a case lodged by a BJP leader in Assam.
Chaos at Delhi airport
Earlier in the day, high voltage drama was witnessed at the Delhi airport as Khera was deplaned from a Raipur-bound aircraft while he was on way to the Chhattisgarh capital to attend the Congress’s plenary session.
The arrest led to sloganeering and dharna at the tarmac by party leaders, even as other passengers quizzically stared at the fracas.
Congress leaders and workers alleged that the arrest was an attempt to disrupt the plenary similar to the ED raids in Chhattisgarh. Congress leaders accompanying him sat on the tarmac in protest and resisted efforts to take him away without an arrest warrant.
Meanwhile, passengers on the Delhi-Raipur flight were also asked to deboard by the Indigo staff, with the airline saying they will be put on another flight.
Congress leaders, including president Mallikarjun Kharge, lashed out at the police for Khera’s arrest.
“The BJP government tried to harass Pawan Khera. I am happy with SC‘s order, it’s a tight slap on their face. I condemn this action by BJP. In Parliament also, we were stopped from raising issues. They are trying to eliminate freedom of speech. Democracy is under threat,” said Kharge.
In the evening, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh held a press conference saying, the day saw the vindictive politics of the Modi government.
“3 FIRs were registered against (him) in Lucknow, Varanasi and Assam. Nowadays, if there is a need to arrest any opposition leader, then the CM of Assam becomes very active,” the Congress’s Twitter handle quoted him saying, adding a similar FIR was lodged against Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani.
Ramesh said the Modi government tried to derail the 85th plenary session of the Congress by arresting Khera.
आज हमने मोदी सरकार की प्रतिशोध से भरी राजनीति देखी। @Pawankhera जी पर लखनऊ, वाराणसी और असम में 3 FIR दर्ज की गई।… https://t.co/BI03u5tnFf
— Congress (@INCIndia) 1677155237000
SC relief for Khera
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud ordered grant of interim bail to Khera till February 28 in the case lodged in Assam.
“In order to protect the petitioner (Khera) until he applies for regular bail before the jurisdictional courts in relation to all the FIRs, we direct that till the next date of listing, the petitioner shall be released on interim bail by the court of competent magistrate in Delhi,” said a three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud.
“The order will remain operational till Tuesday (February 28),” the bench said and listed the matter for hearing on February 27.
The apex court also issued notices to Assam and Uttar Pradesh seeking their responses to Khera’s plea for transferring and clubbing together three separate FIRs lodged against him in both the states. There is one FIR against him in Assam at Haflong, while two in the Uttar Pradesh cities of Lucknow and Varanasi for his alleged offensive remarks against the prime minister.
After dictating the order, the CJI, apparently displeased with the Congress leader’s remarks, told senior advocate A M Singhvi, who was representing Khera, “We have protected you (Khera) but there has to be some level of discourse.”
It noted that a communication was addressed by the Assam Police to the station house officer of domestic airport police station in New Delhi stating that Khera is required to be apprehended in connection with the case lodged there.
The bench said the apex court’s jurisdiction has been invoked for diverse reliefs, including — quashing of the complaints; in the alternative, transfer and clubbing of the FIRs at one jurisdiction and restraint on all coercive steps, and to provide security to the petitioner and his family.
“At the outset, we have indicated to counsel for the petitioner that a petition under Article 32 cannot be entertained for quashing the FIRs since the petitioner has an alternate remedy under section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, before the jurisdictional high court. Moreover, the petitioner will have to seek regular bail before the competent court,” the bench said.
It noted Singhvi’s submission that Khera will not press the prayer for quashing of FIRs since the petitioner would be advised to pursue the remedies which are available to him in accordance with law before the appropriate high court.
‘Khera already apologised for his remarks’
During the proceedings, Singhvi told the apex court that Khera had already apologised for his remarks made at a press conference on February 17 in Mumbai and the offences alleged against him in the cases did not require arrest.
“It will have straightaway impact on the latitude of free speech,” Singhvi said, adding, “This should not have led to arrest. The offences entail maximum sentence of three or five years and no prior notice was served upon him.”
He said Khera had already acknowledged the very same day that the remarks were a mistake.
He said FIRs have been lodged and offences, including those under sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the IPC have been invoked against him.
Terming it a “calculated statement”, additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for Assam, played the audio-video clip of Khera’s alleged remarks, in the open court and said he cannot use such “derogatory words” against a democratically elected prime minister of the country.
When Singhvi pointed out that Khera has already apologised for his remarks, Bhati said, “Please see the video whether it is a mistake or a deliberate act. It is the demeanour which counts. There was laughter all around after these remarks.”
Was arrested in an illegal manner: Khera after release
Meanwhile, later in the day, a Delhi court granted interim bail to Khera, following which he was released from the prison.
After being released on interim bail, Khera said he was deplaned and arrested by the Assam police in an illegal manner without furnishing a copy of FIR or notice. “I have complete trust in the judicial system which protected my freedom of expression today,” Khera said.
Pawan Khera’s first reaction after release: ‘Fully trust India’s legal system, will keep fighting under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership,’ says Congress leader
Khera said that he would strengthen the efforts of his leader Rahul Gandhi to protect this nation and protect constitutional values.
“Our struggle to protect this nation, protect constitutional values – my leader Rahul Gandhi is carrying on his struggle fearlessly, I will strengthen his efforts,” he said.
On February 17, the Congress spokesperson had reportedly mocked Prime Minister Modi’s late father while taking a jibe over the Adani-Hindenburg row.
Arrest was made lawfully: BJP
Hitting out at Congress, BJP said the opposition party leaders should not consider themselves “above the law”.
Addressing the media, national spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said that everything has been done lawfully.
“The Congress leaders should not live under this misconception that they are above the law. The Congress is playing the victim card after using derogatory words against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his family members, he said, adding the leaders “flouted rules” by protesting on the Delhi airport tarmac and endangering the lives of fellow passengers. “People were inconvenienced by the Congress’ protests. Prime Minister Modi enjoys the blessings of more than 140 crore people of the country and abusing him is like digging a hole in which the Congress will fall.”
Watch ‘Gautamdas’ remark: Supreme Court grants interim bail to Pawan Khera, was deplaned and arrested by Assam Police at Delhi airport