More than two months after 49 eminent personalities spanning various fields wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on lynchings across the country, the Bihar police have booked all the signatories of the letter on the charges of sedition, public nuisance and breach of peace.
The FIR, which names Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalkrishnan, Ramachandra Guha, Mani Ratnam, Shubha Mudgal, Aparna Sen, Konkana Sen and Anurag Kashyap among the 49, was filed on orders from a Muzaffarpur court in response to a complaint.
Local lawyer Sudhir Kumar Ojha had filed the complaint before the Muzaffarpur chief judicial magistrate on July 27,
alleging that these famous personalities had tried to “tarnish the image of the country and undermine the impressive performance of the prime minister” besides “supporting secessionist tendencies”.
The Muzaffarpur court had asked the Sadar police station to file an FIR on September 18 and submit a compliance report by November 11.
Following the FIR, the Congress targeted the Bihar government and alleged that India is becoming an authoritarian state. “Everybody knows what is going on in the country. It is not a secret. In fact, the whole world knows it. We are moving into an authoritarian state. It’s pretty clear. Anybody who says anything against the Prime Minister, anybody who raises anything against the Government is put in jail, is attacked. Media is crushed. Everybody knows what’s going on, this is not a secret,” said former party chief Rahul Gandhi.
The FIR was filed on October 2 under IPC sections 124A (sedition), 153B (assertions or assumptions prejudicial to national integration, 160 (committing affray), 290 (committing public nuisance), and 504 (breach of peace).
Sadar police station sub-inspector Hareram Paswan has been asked to investigate the case. Police station in-charge Mithilesh Kumar Jha said: “The IO will investigate the case and a team may visit Mumbai soon”. Muzaffarpur SSP Manoj Kumar, who instructed the Sadar police station to lodge the case on 18 September, said: “We have complied with the court order and lodged the case. Further action will depend on the outcome of the investigation”.
The letter, signed by 49 eminent personalities, stated that “lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately”, and that the slogan “Jai Shri Ram” has become a “provocative war cry”. The letter, dated July 23, maintained that there is “no democracy without dissent”, and that people should not be branded as “anti-nationals” or “urban Naxals” for voicing dissent.
Ojha’s complaint’s to the court said: “…49 intellectuals had written a letter to the Prime Minister regarding frenzied violence under his government. What transpired from reporting from newspapers and TV news channels was that there was an attempt to defame image of the country with false allegations…this can cause ill-will in the country”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Ojha said: “Everyone has right to write to the PM on anything but going to media with the content of the letter was fraught with nefarious design to cause an atmosphere of ill will. They wanted to raise concerns over mob lynching. They could have waited for the government response before trying to give their verdict”.
Ojha has been known to file cases against famous personalities. In the past, he has lodged complaints against Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad, Raj Thackeray, Arvind Kejriwal, Asaram Bapu, Nirmal Baba and several leading film personalities.
While some of the cases have been quashed, inquiries have been on in others. Ojha, a practising lawyer at the Muzaffarpur court, has successfully filed cases too.
In 2007, the state government had to roll back hiked court fees following a PIL by him. Ojha said his PIL in 2005 also made the Centre withdraw its plan to transfer the railway zonal office from Hajipur to Danapur. And in 2011, the Muzaffarpur police lodged a case against 385 people including 22 BDOs in an alleged solar light scam to the tune of Rs 1,600 Crore.