The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to give an urgent hearing on Wednesday to a plea seeking action against those involved when lawyers attacked journalists and students while a Delhi BJP MLA assaulted a CPI member at the Patiala House Courts complex in the heart of the Capital. Union Minister Kiren Rijiju set off another storm hours before the hearing asking what the fuss is all about: "Was there a murder?" he asked.
To recap for our readers, the Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday ties in with many intersecting threads from debates raging in India's public square: Lawyers thrashed journalists who landed up to cover, among other cases, the one where JNU students union chief Kanhaiya Kumar is involved. Kumar is behind bars for sedition because of speeches he belted out on campus. Students also got beaten up at Patiala House court.
A BJP MLA made headlines for saying that he would shoot if he had a gun.
Former Delhi University professor SAR Geelani was also arrested in a separate case of sedition on Tuesday. Intelligence agencies have begun questioning Geelani too. It all started after Rajnath Singh termed a gathering in JNU anti-national based on a "fake tweet", but the sedition charge remains a question mark as experts ask why 'anti-national' and 'anti-establishment' must not be nuanced a bit before jumping headlong into sedition. Finally, the Indian government is trying to get to the bottom of the "fake tweet", reported The Hindu.
Meanwhile, the 'ready-for-a-fight' BJP MLA O P Sharma remained defiant despite his pictures attacking a CPI man being splashed all over. "I've been like this since I was a kid," he told The Hindustan Times.
While all this unravels, cops are still hunting for the sedition suspects. Police are now debating whether they should enter the JNU campus again to conduct fresh searches, reports The Indian Express. The grey in the mix has made it to international headlines. Sedition on what grounds is the focus of global attention.
The New York Times quotes legal experts saying the sedition charge cannot hold. "India’s sedition laws, which date back to the British Raj, mandate prison terms ranging from three years to life. Though the Supreme Court has ruled that sedition charges apply only to speech that incites violence, the law has been used in recent years on apparently political targets: a cartoonist in Mumbai, or a group of Kashmiri students cheering the Pakistani cricket team, among others," reports The New York Times.
On Tuesday, senior lawyer Indira Jaising mentioned the petition before Chief Justice T S Thakur who agreed to have it listed for hearing Wednesday.
The petition filed by N D Jaiprakash, an alumnus of JNU who was injured in the attack, has also requested directives to ensure the safety of JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar — booked for sedition. Kanhaiya has to be produced in court at the end of his police custody.
The petition sought a direction to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Delhi Police to take all preventive action so that no such violence takes place either inside the court room or within the court complex as such type of activities in the court complex put the life of the accused in peril.
Tuesday also saw hundreds of journalists take to the streets demanding action against those involved in the assault. The journalists, shouting slogans against the Modi Government and Delhi Police, marched from Press Club of India to the Supreme Court and submitted a memorandum to its, Registrar, seeking cancellation of licences of lawyers involved in the assualt. The protesters also demanded Police Commissioner B S Bassi’s sacking due to alleged inaction by the security personnel.
The memorandum by the journalists was submitted to the apex court even as it agreed to hear a petition on Wednesday on a plea seeking action against those involved in the violence at Patiala House court complex.
“We demand the intervention of the highest court of the land to take appropriate action against the advocates involved in the assault,” the memorandum said, urging the court to direct the bar council to cancel the licences of the errant advocates.
No arrest has been made even 24 hours after the assault where Delhi BJP MLA OP Sharma was also seen beating up a CPI activist.
A separate delegation of journalists met Home Minister Rajnath Singh demanding his intervention in ensuring “accountability of the Delhi Police who watched silently as the assault happened”.
The journalists also said the CCTV footage of yesterday’s incident should be called for and police directed to ensure protection to journalists and other media persons.
On Monday, around 40 lawyers had beaten up journalists and JNU students and teachers ahead of the hearing of the sedition case registered against JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar in connection with an event at the university last week to protest the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
Union Minister Kiren Rijiju played it all down saying: "There may be issues of scuffle. Was there a murder, I don't know."
Violence broke out in the Patiala House court complex on Monday when groups of lawyers attacked journalists and students and teachers of JNU in and outside the court dubbing them as anti-national. The incident took place in the presence of police.
Asked about Delhi Police commissioner BS Bassi describing the incident as a "minor scuffle" which will be "looked into", the Union minister of state for home shot back, "Who is saying that. I don't know but I am sure police will take action. I have not gone into details of this particular incident.
"What I am saying is there may be physical fights. It will not amount to sedition. There may be issues of scuffles, there may be something, there may be heinous crime. There are different layers of law as per the intensity of the particular crime. I am nobody to tell police to book the person under this or that law," he told CNN-IBN.
"Don't discuss about the scuffle which the police will take note of," he said, adding, "please come to the more serious issue" (of sloganeering).
He was asked about police arresting JNU students' union president Kanhaiya Kumar at the university campus on charges of sedition but looking the other way when journalists, students and teachers were being beaten up in their presence.
Rijiju had defended his senior in the home ministry, Rajnath Singh, saying there were enough indications that Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed was backing the incident in Jawaharlal Nehru University.
With inputs from PTI