New Delhi: Setting aside Republic TV editor-in-chief and anchor Arnab Goswami’s plea that all hate speech cases against him be quashed, the Supreme Court on Friday allowed the Maharashtra police to proceed with investigations into one of the FIRs filed but stayed the other FIRs filed against him in six states. The court also ordered that there be no investigation in any fresh FIR arising out of the “April 21 TV show”, LiveLaw quoted the bench as saying.
The court also said no coercive action should be taken against Goswami for the next three weeks, so he has time to apply for anticipatory bail.
The FIRs had been filed across five states by members of the Congress, after Goswami went on a tirade against party president Sonia Gandhi for maintaining a “deliberate silence” on the Palghar lynching. The FIRs were filed in Maharashtra, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Nagpur FIR will be moved to Mumbai – where Goswami lives – for investigation, the court added.
The case was heard by Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah through video conferencing. Goswami had approached the court on Thursday, asking for an ex parte stay on all the FIRs against him.
Senior advocate and former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi appeared for Goswami, Bar and Bench reported. He argued that the anchor worked in the “public interest” and had not made any religious allegations on the show. Rohatgi also talked about the “murderous attack” on the anchor and his wife, saying that the FIRs and attack together amounted to an “attempt to muzzle free speech”.
Hours after the FIRs were filed, on April 23 night, Goswami alleged that his car was attacked while he was on his way back from work by members of the Youth Congress. The Mumbai police have arrested two men in this regard.
Senior advocate and Congress leader Kapil Sibal, appearing for the state of Maharashtra, argued that the FIRs could be clubbed but not quashed, as an investigation was required. Advocate Manish Singhvi, appearing for Rajasthan, said a prima facie case had been made out. “There can be consolidation of cases, but investigation cannot be stopped,” he agreed with Sibal.
On April 21, Goswami, on his show, launched an attack on Congress president Sonia Gandhi for deliberately maintaining “silence” on the matter because “she hails from Italy”.
“In India, being a Hindu and wearing the orange colour has become a sin. I ask that if a maulavi had been killed, would people be silent? Would Sonia Gandhi, who hails from Italy, be quiet? Today, she is silent …I think she is happy in her heart that saints are being attacked in a state where she has formed the government. She will send a report to Italy saying that ‘Where I formed government, I am getting saints killed,” he stated. He alleged that she would not have remained silent had they been “Muslim preachers or Christian saints”.
Several Congress leaders including Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh took to Twitter, accusing Goswami of trying to incite communal violence through hate speech. Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said Goswami “is in urgent need of treatment. He is not well.”
According to news reports, Maharashtra’s energy minister and Congress leader Nitin Raut filed an FIR in Nagpur accusing Goswami of inciting communal violence by delivering a hate speech, a cognisable offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). It was followed by another FIR filed in Raipur by Chhattisgarh health minister and party leader T.S. Singh Deo. Yet another FIR was filed in Maharashtra by state Youth Congress president Satyajeet Tambe. According to an Indian Express report, Tambe had instructed party workers to file complaints against Goswami’s controversial comments in all districts of the state.
In the hearing, Rohatgi said it was settled law that if defamation is alleged – as in the instant cases Congress complainants have charged Goswami with defaming Sonia Gandhi – it was only the defamed person who had the right to file a case and not others on her behalf.