The Delhi high court on Monday reserved its verdict on a bail plea from JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar in a sedition case even as the police department said it has no video evidence of the accused chanting anti-India slogans.
Justice Pratibha Rani is likely to pronounce the order on Wednesday, weeks after Kumar was arrested following a controversial event organised on February 9 at the Delhi-based university to commemorate 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
The court observed that “men can lie but documents cannot” and pulled up Delhi Police for failing to produce any video evidence where the student leader can be seen shouting anti-national slogans.
The case has also emerged as the latest tussle between the local government and Centre with Delhi Police, which reports to the Union home ministry, demanding Kumar be kept in jail and the AAP government’s counsel opposing this.
“When your three policemen were present inside the campus in civil dress, why didn’t they take cognisance when anti-national slogans were raised? Why did they not record it on video?” the judge asked the police department.
The prosecution said it isn’t just relying on a much-debated video tape that the defence alleges is doctored.
Additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for Delhi Police, defended Kumar’s arrest, saying there is evidence, including pamphlets and statements of witnesses, which confirm that the accused and others were shouting anti-India slogans and were holding Guru’s posters.
Several eyewitness reports were read out during the hearing, sources told HT.
The Parliament’s budget session is in danger of being overshadowed by rising political bitterness over the police’s and central government’s handling of the JNU crisis that opposition leaders say is an attempt to muzzle free speech.
Kumar’s counsel senior advocate Kapil Sibal and lawyer Vrinda Grover maintained that their client didn’t chant any anti-national slogans and didn’t lead any protest.
“He was simply there to calm the situation down,” they said, repeating the student leader’s own statement to police. Kumar reached the venue when he heard that two groups were quarrelling, his lawyers said.
Delhi government’s counsel Rahul Mehra questioned the police investigation, saying several aspects have not been probed properly.
“I am not a mouthpiece of the investigating agency. I want to raise certain questions on the probe done by the police,” he said.
Two other JNU students – Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya – have also been arrested in the case and all three have been questioned by authorities. Khalid and Bhattacharya had surrendered last Tuesday and will remain in police custody till March 1.
Delhi Police opposed Kumar’s bail plea saying his release at this early stage in the investigation could hamper the probe and influence witnesses. The accused might create law and order problems if granted bail, officers told the high court.
“It (bail) would send a wrong signal to the student community across the country that such anti-India activities can be conducted with immunity,” the department said in a status report.
Police told the court that Kumar was not cooperating in the interrogation.
“We have to ensure that they don’t suffer any scratches. That’s my only concern,” justice Pratibha Rani had said on the previous date of hearing.
Attacks on Kumar as well as reporters and teachers by lawyers allegedly linked to the BJP at the city’s Patiala House court in February triggered allegations that the ruling party was cracking down on political dissent in the name of patriotism.
“Delhi Police are making completely wild allegations,” Grover told HT. “I think it is distressing to see that an investigation is being done to appease their political masters. What police should be investigating is why the video was doctored, who doctored it and who is to gain from it.”