After being in jail for over a fortnight, JNU Student’s Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar could be released on Wednesday when verdict on his bail plea is announced post lunch.
Justice Pratibha Rani had on Monday reserved the order after hearing lengthy arguments from Kumar’s lawyers and the Delhi Police who vehemently opposed the bail plea. Delhi standing counsel, Rahul Mehra, also pleaded with the court to sanction the bail.
Kumar was arrested on February 12 for allegedly raising anti-national slogans on JNU campus during a rally held on February 9 that marked the third anniversary of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s hanging. Police allege that Kumar, with other students including Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, shouted out for the ‘death of the Indian state’ and called for ‘the rise of Pakistan’.
On Tuesday, co-accused – Khalid and Bhattacharya – were remanded to judicial custody for 14 days. Kumar, however, distanced himself from them and said he had nothing to do with organising the controversial event.
Kapil Sibal, who is representing Kumar, alleged that police acted hastily, based on a news report by Zee television which appears to have been doctored to show false evidence. Alternate videos showing Kumar chanting slogans against casteism and poverty have since emerged.
In the Monday hearing that lasted three hours, Sibal argued that Kumar had never raised any slogans against the nation. He further said the only credible evidence available was CCTV footage that showed Kumar asking for ID proof of people attending the event.
Police, however, told the court that they had eye-witness testimonies and other documentary evidence of Kumar’s participation in a rally. They further accused him of not cooperating with them, adding that joint interrogations held by the Intelligence Bureau and Delhi Police had produced contradictory statements from the 28-year-old.
Given the ongoing conflict over the evidence, the bench questioned the grounds on which the police charged Kumar for sedition and criminal conspiracy.
If found guilty of the charges, Kumar could be sentenced to jail for life.
Kumar’s arrest and subsequent events that followed – including his assault at the hands of lawyers in Delhi’s Patiala House Court complex – sparked an outrage from the nation, pitting the ruling BJP against the Opposition. Universities across India also joined in protests against Kumar’s arrest.
JNU students are expected to march till the Supreme Court demanding Kumar’s freedom on Wednesday.
The controversy has also dredged up old concerns about the law of sedition, with many calling for it to be struck down. Political rivals also made a rare stand against the Centre, with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat, sharing a stage.