The Patna High Court recently made an important decision, quashing the criminal proceedings initiated against Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu for allegedly appealing for votes on religious grounds during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In a ruling delivered by Justice Sandeep Kumar, it was concluded that Sidhu had not made any statement prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony or said something that was likely to disturb public tranquility.
The court carefully examined the content of Sidhu’s speech and found that he had only remarked that All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) Chief Asaduddin Owaisi was attempting to divide Muslim votes. The court opined that Sidhu’s statement did not promote feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of people or religions. Instead, it was seen as a cautionary message to the Muslim community, advising them not to split their votes at the behest of Owaisi.
The case arose from comments made by Sidhu during election campaigns in April 2019. He was reported to have appealed to Muslim voters in Bihar to vote for the Congress party en bloc in order to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and prevent their votes from being divided by supporting Owaisi.
Following these remarks, an FIR was registered against Sidhu by the Bihar Police under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Representation of People Act (RP Act). A charge sheet was then filed, and the trial court took cognizance of the alleged offenses.
However, Sidhu challenged these proceedings before the High Court, contending that he was falsely implicated in the case due to political rivalry. In response, the State argued that a prima facie case had been established against him, thereby justifying the continuation of the prosecution.
After careful consideration, the High Court upheld Sidhu’s contention. It held that no appeal on religious grounds had been made by him, and therefore, he could not be prosecuted under Section 123(3) of the RP Act. The Court also dismissed the charge under Section 125 of the RP Act, stating that the statements did not promote enmity or hatred based on religion, race, caste, community, or language.
Additionally, the Court ruled that the allegation of disobedience to a duly promulgated order under Section 188 of the IPC could not be sustained. It found that the complaint filed against Sidhu did not comply with the mandatory provisions of Section 195 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which governs the acceptance of complaints related to such offenses.
Consequently, the Court quashed the order taking cognizance and the summons issued to Sidhu. The entire prosecution was deemed illegal and, therefore, nullified.
Sidhu’s legal team, led by Senior Advocate Ramakant Sharma, successfully defended him in this case.
[Navjot Singh Sidhu v The State of Bihar & Anr]