Sonia Gandhi, Congress were the targets not Muslims, says Bombay HC; FIRs against Arnab Goswami stayed

Mumbai: Observing that it cannot allow a public debate with a sword hanging over the journalist's head, the Bombay High Court on Tuesday stayed two FIRs filed against TV anchor Arnab Goswami for allegedly communalising the Palghar Sadhu lynching and another incident wherein hundreds of migrants had gathered outside Bandra station during the lockdown. The HC also ordered the Mumbai Police not to take any coercive action against Goswami till further orders.

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

In its 38-page order, the judges said that there was no prima facie material to prove that Goswami had 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 saints juxtaposing this with the question as to whether the Congress party or Gandhi would have kept quiet if any Maulvi or Padri was killed. Thereafter, he has made allegations against the foreign origins 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 community. It would be too far-fetched to say that two religious communities were involved in the debate," the judges said while granting interim relief to Goswami.

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

Notably, the first FIR lodged initially at Nagpur and later transfered to Mumbai, accused Goswami of communalising the Palghar Sadhu lynching incident for 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 the series of mob gatherings outside various Masjids amid the lockdown. He had questioned (again on a live show) who called or asked the mob 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 is concerned, the bench said, India has become a "matured democracy" now.

"India's freedom 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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