Sedition FIR puts Delhi Police in a tough spot

Talking heads Geelani and Arundhati at the controversial seminar
Talking heads Geelani and Arundhati at the controversial seminar

AFTER ALL the hue and cry, critics of writer-activist Arundhati Roy have notched an apparent victory. On a complaint by adman and BJP sympathiser Sushil Pandit, Delhi Metropolitan Magistrate Navita Kumari Bagha asked the police on 27 November to register an FIR against Roy, Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao and three others for making “anti-India” speeches.

Pandit had alleged that Roy and the other participants of the ‘Azadi’ seminar on Kashmir, held in Delhi on 21 October, had committed sedition against the State.

Following the magistrate’s order, the Station House Officer (SHO) of the Tilak Marg Police Station registered an FIR under Sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 153B (imputations, assertions, prejudicial to national integration), 504 (insult intended to provoke breach of peace) and 505 (statements conducting public mischief ) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The court has given the police time till 6 January 2011 to investigate the matter and file a report.

Pandit, an associate of BJP leader Arun Jaitley and the brain behind the party’s successful advertising campaigns in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, is elated. “An FIR is a modest start. The police must now file a chargesheet within 90 days,” he says.

But some questions remain. Will the police now contradict its own status report filed in the same court, giving a clean chit to Roy and Geelani? Does it have enough evidence to charge both for sedition? No, going by the details of the status report filed on 27 November. The Tilak Marg SHO had claimed that there were no “essential ingredients” for a sedition case against the duo. The report acknowledged that the speech reflected “the state of mind” of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. The speech, it claims, “reflects the state of affairs” from the perspective of Kashmiris and also their feelings for azadi. It also points out that the rape cases in Kashmir, as mentioned by Roy, have been widely reported in the media.

After citing extracts from the speeches of Roy and Geelani, the report mentions the inability of the police to find any evidence to press sedition charges under 124A of the IPC against the duo. It goes on to add that a person can be charged under sedition only if the “words spoken have pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order”. But in the case of Roy and Geelani, the police acknowledges that the duo’s speeches haven’t resulted in violence anywhere in the country.

The police, which is now examining the speeches again, feels that there can be no debate on the magistrate’s directive. “The court has asked us to register an FIR and investigate the matter and we are doing it,” says Delhi Police PRO Rajan Bhagat.

Police status report says there were no ‘essential ingredients’ for a sedition case against Arundhati

On her part, Roy feels she is being used as a distraction from the real issues affecting the country. “Instead of concentrating on issues like corruption and RSS link to terror, the administration is targeting me,” she says. The Booker Prize-winning writer also cited former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s comments on Kashmir in a recent column. “Perhaps they should posthumously file a charge against Jawaharlal Nehru too,” she had remarked.

Roy’s lawyer Prashant Bhushan hopes the probe will not contradict the police’s earlier conclusion. “Ideally, they should resubmit the same report or expand on it,” he says. To know whether they would or not, we will have to wait till 6 January.

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