Ahmedabad: In a reprieve to caste reservation agitation leader Hardik Patel, the Gujarat High Court on Tuesday dropped the charge of ‘waging war against the government’ against him and his five associates but allowed the stringent sedition case against them.
Justice J.B. Pardiwala ordered the removal of three Indian Penal Code sections from the first information report (FIR) — section 121 (waging war against government), 153-A (promoting enmity between different communities on the basis of religion, caste etc.) and 153-B (assertions prejudicial to national integrity).
The court, however, refused to drop sections 124 (sedition) and 121-A (conspiracy to wage war against government), which attract punishment of life imprisonment or up to 10 years.
Suresh Patel, father of the 22-year-old Hardik, had in October challenged the FIR lodged by Crime Branch, saying their agitation for quota did not amount to sedition or war against the government.
This was strongly contested by public prosecutor Mitesh Amin, who maintained that the stringent charges against the Patel leaders were based on telephone call interceptions by the Crime Branch.
The Crime Branch had recorded over 200 such calls among the Patel leaders between July and September.
The prosecutor argued that these conversations were very “caustic”, and so strong that the accused could be heard asking their supporters to torch police outposts, dislodge railway tracks, and murder policemen.
These conversations were made as part of an attempt to topple the government, he said.
He told the court that apart from the calls, police also learnt that as many as 35 lakh messages, urging the Patel community to indulge in violence, were sent on social media platforms immediately after Hardik Patel was detained by police on the night of August 25.
He said the fallout of such communication was the statewide violence, which claimed the lives of a policeman and seven citizens.
On the other hand, Hardik’s lawyer B.M. Mangukia argued that people had all the right to express their dissent against the government, as it was a fundamental right.
He said that even if people got impulsive in their expression, this does not amount to “sedition or waging war against government”.
Mangukia argued that dislodging of railway tracks does not amount to sedition or waging war, and that such protests were frequent in the country.
The lawyer also said that the protests, though may be violent, were against the elected government run by the ruling BJP, and not against sovereignty of the government.