Sedition case against 49 celebrities dropped

The complainant would be prosecuted for levelling "false" allegations

Those named as accused by advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha, who had filed the petition on July 23, included filmmaker Aparna Sen, historian Ramachandra Guha, and filmmaker Mani Ratnam, among others.

Facing all-round flak for the sedition case lodged against 49 celebrities, who wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi protesting mob lynching, the Bihar police eventually ordered the closure of the case here on Wednesday.

“I have ordered the closure of the case as the investigation found that the FIR was lodged against the celebrities out of ‘mischief’ and the allegations against them lacked substance,” said Senior SP (SSP) of Muzaffarpur Manoj Kumar Sinha.

The Additional Director General of Police (Headquarters), Jitendra Kumar, said the matter was supervised by SSP Muzaffarpur. "The complainant could not produce supporting documents or evidence, not even the alleged letter written by the 49 persons, which may support his claim of the commission of any offence," he said.

"On this and other circumstantial basis, the case is found to be false and the order has been issued by him to investigating officer to submit Final Report- False. Along with this, finding this to be an intentional purpose of the complainant, prosecution under sections 182 and 211 (of the IPC) will be submitted against the complainant for lodging a false case," the ADG added.

Last week, an FIR was lodged at Muzaffarpur’s Sadar police station against 49 celebrities, including veteran filmmakers Mani Ratnam, Shyam Benegal and Aparna Sen, besides historian Ram Chandra Guha and 45 others, for “tarnishing the image of the country, undermining impressive leadership of Prime Minister and supporting secessionists.”

The ADG said on Wednesday the case was lodged at Muzaffarpur in the wake of the Chief Judicial Magistrate's order under Section 156(3) of the CrPC.

Under the provision, the police had "no option but to register a case under sections which the reading of the complaint discloses", he said.

These celebrities had written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing their concern over the increase in incidents of mob lynching, mostly in BJP-ruled states. Stressing that the slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’ had become more a ‘provocative war cry’, the 49 signatories had written to PM that “there was no democracy without dissent.”

‘Pained’ over the celebrities’ open letter to Modi, a Muzaffarpur-based lawyer Sudhir Ojha filed a case against them in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Surya Kant Tripathi in August 2019. After the CJM passed an order, an FIR was lodged at Muzaffarpur Sadar police station on October 3 against the 49 celebrities, who were signatories to the letter to the PM.

Bollywood personalities Kangana Ranaut, Madhur Bhandarkar and Vivek Agnihotri – who were critical of the open letter – were named "witnesses".

Expressing his dismay over such a sedition case lodged against the celebrities, veteran filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan had remarked, “Will any court admit such petition based on a letter which was meant to express one's fears about happenings in the country.”

Another filmmaker Aparna Sen too expressed similar concerns and averred that such case would be eventually dismissed by the High Court.   

The filing of the FIR evoked criticisms from top opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi even as close to 200 celebrities – this time including historian Romila Thapar and actor Naseeruddin Shah among others – came out with another open letter asking how an appeal to the Prime Minister could be construed as seditious.

Last week, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s intervention was sought by his former associate and RJD national vice president Shivanand Tiwari who pointed out that Guha, named as an accused, was among those intellectuals who have lavished praise on the JD(U) chief.

An embarrassed Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi, who is also a senior BJP leader, came out with a statement earlier in the day clarifying that his party or the Sangh Parivar did not have anything to do with the sedition case.

The Deputy CM also dubbed Ojha, whom he did not mention by name, a "serial litigant" by whom he was also named as accused in a case a few years ago.

Sushil Modi, however, also attacked the "award wapasi and tukde-tukde gangs" for trying to take advantage of the episode to allege that the Modi government at the Centre was throttling freedom of expression.

Meanwhile, Ojha remained unfazed when he was approached by journalists after the Police Headquarters came out with its statement.

"Any number of petitions have been filed on the basis of my complaints and these have been pending for as long as 10 years. I wonder how the police came to a conclusion in this matter in just a few days. I will file a petition against the police," the maverick lawyer declared. 

With inputs from PTI.

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