SC dismisses plea to quash case against Congress leader for remarks against PM Modi

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The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a petition by Congress leader Pawan Khera, who sought to quash the criminal proceedings against him for allegedly making derogatory remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a press conference in Mumbai in 2023.

Khera had mispronounced PM’s name and linked him to Adani Group

Khera, who is the chairperson of the Media and Publicity Department of the All India Congress Committee, had called for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the U.S.-based Hindenburg Research’s report against the Adani Group, which had accused the conglomerate of inflating its assets and revenues. Khera had alleged that the Adani Group was the “biggest beneficiary” of the Modi government’s policies and had received undue favours and concessions.

In the course of his speech, Khera had also mispronounced the name of the Prime Minister as ‘Narendra Gautam Das Modi’, instead of ‘Narendra Damodardas Modi’, and had sarcastically remarked that his work was similar to that of ‘Gautam Das’, who is the chief minister of Tripura and a BJP leader. Khera had later apologised for his mistake and said that it was unintentional and due to a slip of tongue.

FIRs were lodged in Assam and Uttar Pradesh against Khera

Khera’s remarks had sparked outrage among the BJP supporters and leaders, who had filed FIRs against him in Assam and Uttar Pradesh, accusing him of defaming and insulting the Prime Minister and his late father. Khera was arrested by the Assam Police on February 23, 2023, from the Delhi airport, when he was on his way to Raipur to attend a party plenary session. He was later granted interim bail by the Supreme Court, which had clubbed the three FIRs and transferred them to the Hazratganj police station in Lucknow.

PM Modi

Khera had challenged the Allahabad High Court’s order in the Supreme Court

Khera had moved the Allahabad High Court, seeking to quash the criminal proceedings against him, on the grounds that his remarks were not intended to hurt anyone’s sentiments and that he had already expressed his regret. He had also argued that the FIRs were politically motivated and an abuse of the process of law. However, the High Court had dismissed his plea on August 17, 2023, saying that the evidence collected by the investigating officer could not be evaluated in a petition filed under section 482 of the CrPC for quashing the case. The High Court had also observed that since the Supreme Court had asked Khera to raise all his contentions before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Lucknow, it would be appropriate if he did so.

Khera had then approached the Supreme Court, challenging the High Court’s order and seeking to quash the criminal proceedings against him. He had contended that his remarks were protected by the freedom of speech and expression and that the FIRs were filed with malafide intentions to harass and intimidate him. He had also submitted that he had posted an apology on ‘X’, formerly Twitter, and that there was no prima facie case against him.

Supreme Court dismissed Khera’s plea and asked him to face trial

A bench of Justices B.R. Gavai and Prashant Kumar Mishra heard Khera’s plea on Thursday and dismissed it, saying that there was no merit in his arguments. The bench said that Khera had deliberately uttered the name of the late father of the Prime Minister to be ‘Gautam Das’ and had made a sarcastic remark about his work, which amounted to defamation and insult. The bench also said that Khera’s apology on ‘X’ was not genuine and that he had only done so to get a preventive order from the court. The bench asked Khera to face the trial before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Lucknow, and said that he could raise all his defences there.

The Supreme Court’s order has come as a setback for Khera and the Congress party, which has been accusing the Modi government of favouring the Adani Group and other corporate houses at the cost of the public interest. The BJP, on the other hand, has welcomed the order and said that it has vindicated the dignity and honour of the Prime Minister and his late father.

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