An anti-Narendra Modi comment on Facebook may now lead to the arrest of a 31-year-old shipbuilding professional, even as police in BJP-ruled Goa suspect a "larger game plan to promote communal and social disharmony in the state".
Civil society activists and the Opposition plan to picket outside the police headquarters on Saturday against what they believe is "draconian" action against free speech.
Accused Devu Chodankar's anticipatory bail was rejected on Thursday by the district and sessions court in North Goa, clearing the ground for his arrest.
Police inspector Rajesh Job of the Goa Police cyber cell, which is investigating the case, in his statement filed before the court has sought custodial interrogation of the accused.
"Custodial interrogation of the accused is very much essential to find out any motive of larger game plan to promote communal and social disharmony in the state," Job has said.
Two summons have already been issued to Devu by the cyber cell. In the run up to the Lok Sabha 2014 poll campaign, Mumbai-based Devu in a post on Goa+, a popular FB group with nearly half a lakh members, had cautioned against Modi coming to power, claiming that a holocaust would follow and also that Christians in Goa would lose their identity.
"There is imminent threat of Holocaust as it happened in Gujarat th(r)ough the garb of cunning government policies of Parrikar," Chodankar had said, before deleting the post.
Subsequently, in Goa Speaks, another Facebook group well known for discussions on Goa-related issues, Devu had apologised for his choice of words but not the sum of his argument.
But Atul Pai Kane, a former head of the Confederation of Indian Industries in Goa sees Devu's comments differently.
It is his first information report (FIR) against the shipbuilder, which has now resulted in the police action. Kane, who regularly defends the BJP and chief minister Manohar Parrikar on the social media, in his complaint said Chodandkar had threatened Facebook users against voting for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Lok Sabha polls.
Opposition parties at the time had protested the FIR calling it an attempt by the BJP to muzzle criticism.
"The complaint is against Devu for making inflammatory statements and trying to create communal disharmony, not comments against the BJP," Kane had explained in his online post justifying his complaint.
The FIR was under sections 153(A), 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and section 125 of the People's Representation Act and 66-A of the Information Technology Act. Some of the sections are non-bailable in nature.
Civil society activists have now jumped into the fray claiming that such heightened police interest in a Facebook post is draconian. A protest will now be held Saturday outside the police headquarters in Panaji.
"We will raise slogans, hold placards protesting against application of draconian laws to curb free speech. Today it is Devu, tomorrow it could be any of us," Samir Kelekar, an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay alumnus, told IANS.