Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, TV anchor Rajdeep Sardesai and five other journalists including Mrinal Pandey, group editor of National Herald, Zafar Agha — chief editor of Quami Awaz — and editors of The Caravan magazine Paresh Nath, Anant Nath and Vinod K Jose were booked for sedition by Noida Police on January 28. The FIR stated that they shared misinformation, “inciting violence” on Republic Day.
Reported social activist Arpit Mishra filed the FIR, alleging that the “digital broadcast” and “social media posts” by the accused promoted the violence in Delhi. He filed the FIR at the Sector 20 police station, under section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). The FIR includes Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 298 (utterings, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person), 506 (criminal intimidation), 120B (criminal conspiracy), as well as section 66 of the Information Technology Act among others.
The FIR says the accused acted in “prejudice”, which put national safety and people’s lives in jeopardy. “These people deliberately made malicious, offensive, misleading and provocative statements, and tweeted…that police killed a protesting tractor driver,” it alleged. The driver was killed when his tractor toppled over and postmortem had ruled out any bullet injuries.
The first information report (FIR) stated that the accused persons have “instigated violence” on January 26 through their posts on social media. It said that despite the large-scale attack on the police causing injuries to hundreds of policemen, the accused persons circulated fake news in a coordinated and well-planned manner alleging that the police have shot a person dead.
“It was done deliberately so that it causes a large-scale riot and communal violence among various communities,” the FIR alleged. It also said that their tweets led to the hoisting of the religious flag and other flags at Red Fort in place of the tricolour. “This act of theirs tried to build insurrection against the Indian Republic and tried to sow the seeds of enmity, violence and create a riot-like situation between communities,” the FIR further stated.
Journalist Rajdeep Sardesai in his tweet had said, “One person, 45-year-old Navneet killed allegedly in police firing at ITO. Farmers tell me: the ‘sacrifice’ will not go in vain.”
Although Sardesai had retracted his statement, the India Today Group have taken him off air for two weeks and deducted his salary for a month as part of a disciplinary move over a false tweet.
Sardesai had announced on live television that the man who died during the farmers’ tractor rally on Republic Day had been “shot”. He had also tweeted the same before the broadcast. However, police note that there is “video proof” indicating that the farmer “had died when he fell from his tractor” and not by gunshot.
While Anant Nath, Paresh Nath, Sardesai and Pande did not respond to comments, Vinod said, “Our lawyers are looking into it. Our reporters were on the ground, and had eyewitness on camera.” Zafar Agha said, “I heard about it. Unless I speak to my legal people I can’t comment,” as Tharoor declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the Bhopal Police have also registered a case against Tharoor, Sardesai, Zafar, Anant, Pande, Paresh, and Vinod under IPC section 153A for circulating fake news concerning the death of the farmer. The complaint, according to Bhopal Police, was filed by Sanjay Raghuwanshi, a farmer in Bhopal.
On January 26, thousands of protesting farmers had clashed with police during the tractor rally in protest against the centre’s farm laws. The tractor rally was permitted to start after the Republic Day parade in the national capital ended. The rally, however, turned chaotic as farmers broke through the barricade and changed the agreed route. Many of the protesters, driving tractors, reached the Red Fort and entered the monument. Some protesters even hoisted religious flags on its domes and the flagstaff at the ramparts, where the national flag is unfurled by the prime minister on Independence Day. The violence at Red Fort led to hundreds of police personnel getting injured, and a farmer dying due to his tractor overturning.
Meanwhile, the police have booked at least 37 farmer union leaders, including Rakesh Tikait, Yogendra Yadav and Medha Patkar in an FIR in connection with the violence during the tractor parade. Delhi Police have also named actor Deep Sidhu in the FIR on the violence in Delhi during farmers’ rally on Republic Day. In the meantime, amidst the Ghaziabad district magistrate’s ultimatum to farmers to leave the site by Thursday midnight, security has been tightened at Tikri Border where farmers are protesting against farm laws. However, farmer leader Rakesh Tikait, breaking down and declaring tearfully that he was ready to “face bullets or kill himself”, seemed to have reignited the spirit in the farmers, as groups of farmers from Uttar Pradesh arrived at the protest site at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border as pushback against the administration’s orders.
Meanwhile, the Central Bureau of Investigation has organised surprise checks at godowns at over 20 locations in Punjab and Haryana today with the help of paramilitary forces. Political observers opine that the central agency’s action could be viewed as a repercussion to the tractor rally and the related violence as it comes amid a worsening of the face-off between the farmers and the Central government. CBI raided several godowns of the Food Corporation of India, Punjab Grains Procurement Corporation and Punjab Warehousing. Samples of rice and wheat stocks have been seized. According to CBI officials, the raids are part of “preventive vigilance” in light of receiving a large number of complaints of irregularities in the FCI godowns.