Lucknow/New Delhi: Under fire for attempting to drop cases against its own leaders, the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh has pushed back, claiming it is just following procedure.
The controversy was sparked by media reports that the UP government had written to authorities in Muzaffarnagar, asking if cases can be withdrawn against a host of BJP leaders charged with hate speech ahead of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots.
In response, the state government told NDTV that they had simply forwarded an application by one of the accused leaders, Umesh Malik, BJP MLA, Budhana, asking that the cases be dropped.
But the letter, sent by the Department of Law and Justice, appears to be more than just a cover note for the MLA's application.
It asks whether the Senior Superintendent of Police thinks the cases should be taken back, and whether the District Magistrate thinks the cases could be withdrawn in public interest. The letter is signed by Rajesh Singh, Special Secretary in the Law Department.
In all, it seeks opinion on the withdrawal of nine FIR's or first information reports; of those, the first FIR (number 173/2013) pertains to charges of hate speeches against five prominent BJP/Sangh Parivar leaders. Apart from Mr Malik, the others are Sanjeev Baliyan, BJP MP from Muzaffarnagar, Suresh Rana, BJP MLA, Shamli, Bhartendra Singh, BJP MP, Bijnore, and Sadhvi Prachi, a member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or VHP.
All have been accused of giving provocative speeches at a highly charged mahapanchayat just days before riots broke out, in which an estimated 62 people were killed.
Mr Malik told NDTV that these were false cases, and hence he wrote to the state government.
Speaking to NDTV, the Additional District Magistrate of Muzaffarnagar, Harish Chandra, said that they have received the letter. "It has been sent to relevant authorities and it is being thought upon", he said.
Colin Gonsalves, Supreme Court advocate, says such interventions are malpractice. "If the government actually entertains letters hinting that persons who are accused in criminal cases ought to be let off and the cases ought not to proceed and the accused should be discharged, it is tantamount to administrative interference. It is a very serious offence for a political party, once it comes to power, to seek to withdraw cases against its own politicians," he said.
"All these cases would have proceeded, FIRs filed, chargesheets filed. If at all the accused wants to be discharged, he should approach the trial court", he added.
The state police has filed a chargesheet in the case; the court is expected to frame charges later this week.
Even prior to the letter from the state government, the hate speech case against the VIP's is faltering.
The chargesheet against them mentions less serious charges, of violating prohibitory orders and using criminal force to deter public servants, omitting the graver offence of promoting enmity on grounds of religion (Section 153 A). The reason: the decision to grant sanction to prosecute under 153 A has been pending with the state government for the past four years.
In June last year, the UP government refused to grant sanction to prosecute Yogi Adityanath under 153 A for a hate speech case filed in 2007.