In relief for Arnab Goswami, Bombay HC says he had targeted Sonia Gandhi, Congress, not Muslims
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Observing that it could not allow public debate with a Damocles' sword hanging over a journalist's head, the Bombay High Court on Tuesday stayed two FIRs filed against TV anchor Arnab Goswami for communalising the incidents of Palghar sadhu lynching and the gathering of hundreds of migrants outside Bandra station during the lockdown. The HC also ordered Mumbai Police not to take any coercive action against Goswami till further orders.

A bench of Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Riyaz Chagla also said that Goswami did not target either Muslims or Christians but he had primarily targeted the Congress party and its president Sonia Gandhi, for not condemning the lynching incident.

In its 38-page order, the judges said there was no prima facie material to prove that Goswami indulged in communalism through his live TV shows.

"Prima facie, it appears that Goswami, as a journalist, had questioned the response, or rather, the alleged non-response of the Congress party and its president Sonia Gandhi to the killing of two Hindu sadhus, juxtaposing this with the question as to whether the Congress party or Gandhi would have kept quiet had any maulvi or padre been killed. Thereafter, he has made allegations over the foreign origin of Sonia Gandhi," the judges said.

"Thus, It is quite clear that the object of or the target of Goswami's attack was primarily Sonia Gandhi and the Congress party. There was no mention of either the Muslim or the Christian communities. It would be too far-fetched to say that two religious communities were involved in the debate," the judges said, granting interim relief to Goswami.

The two FIRs filed against Goswami have now been stayed, which means, police cannot proceed further with the probe.

Notably, the first FIR, lodged initially at Nagpur and later transfered to Mumbai, had accused Goswami of communalising the Palghar sadhus' lynching incident by claiming on a live show that the duo was killed because they were Hindus. The other FIR was lodged against him for allegedly trying to target Muslims for a series of gatherings outside various masjids amid the lockdown. He had questioned (again on a live show) who had asked them to gather outside a masjid in Bandra.

"What is deducible is that Goswami had accused the Congress party and its president of having a communal mindset, of being communal in their response or rather in their silence vis-a-vis the unfortunate incident. However, we do not find any statement made by Goswami, which can be construed to be against the Muslim or Christian community," the judges said, adding, "In such circumstances, it cannot be said that any offence has been committed by him of provoking rioting on the grounds of religion, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill will between different religious groups which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony and national integrity."

As far as the 'mob' gathering incident was concerned, the bench said India was now a "mature democracy".

"India's freedoms will rest safe as long as journalists can speak to power without being chilled by a threat of reprisal. We cannot have the spectacle of a Damocles' sword hanging over the head of a journalist while conducting a public debate, as India is now a mature democracy. We cannot be seen to be skating on thin ice so much so that mere mention of a place of worship will lead to animosity amongst religious communities causing upheaval and conflagration on the streets," the judges observed, while posting the matter for final arguments.

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