Sedition charge withdrawal a bid to placate rebel MLAs

Sedition charge withdrawal a bid to placate rebel MLAs

The decision of the Special Operations Group (SOG) of Rajasthan Police to drop sedition charges in the case of alleged horse-trading of MLAs aimed at toppling the Ashok Gehlot government provides hints to the conciliatory gesture by the ruling Congress towards the 19 dissident legislators. The case has been transferred to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).

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The SOG had registered three First Information Reports (FIR) on the complaints lodged by Congress party’s chief whip Mahesh Joshi. Two accused were arrested in the first case, registered on July 10, and a notice was sent to the now sacked deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot for recording his statement in connection with the matter.

Two other cases with the sedition and criminal conspiracy charges were registered on July 17 after some audio tapes containing conversations allegedly about horse-trading of MLAs were leaked. One of these FIRs named an alleged middleman Sanjay Jain, Sardarshahar MLA Bhanwarlal Sharma and one Gajendra Singh, who the Congress claimed was Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

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The SOG said in a statement here on Tuesday that a legal opinion was sought when the preliminary investigation found that certain facts in the cases attracted the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act. “Based on the legal opinion, no case of sedition was made out under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code,” it stated.

After the withdrawal of sedition charges in all the three cases, the files have been sent to the ACB for further action. According to the observers, the SOG’s move could also be aimed at preventing the National Investigation Agency (NIA) from taking over the cases, as MLA Mr. Sharma had moved the Rajasthan High Court seeking quashing of the FIR or its transfer to the NIA.

The SOG informed the High Court on Tuesday that it was dropping the sedition charges and transferring Mr. Sharma’s case to the ACB. The SOG also requested the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s court here to allow the transfer of probe to the ACB during the hearing on the bail application of Mr. Jain.

These developments have come amid indications of a compromise between the two rival factions in the Congress, with both the sides softening their stance on Mr. Pilot’s rebellion ahead of the State Assembly session beginning on August 14. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said earlier this week that he would welcome the rebel MLAs back in the party fold if the Congress high command forgave them.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) State president Satish Poonia said the withdrawal of sedition charges had revealed the Congress government’s “moral defeat” and exposed its plan to create fear among independent legislators and MLAs of smaller parties. “Mr. Gehlot is misusing the police, SOG and ACB as instruments to save his chair,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Rajasthan High Court on Wednesday issued notices to Assembly Speaker C.P. Joshi on two petitions filed by BJP MLA Madan Dilawar and the Bahujan Samaj Party seeking an immediate stay on the merger of six Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MLAs with the Congress last year. The petitioners approached the Division Bench against an order of a single Judge who had refused to stay the functioning of the six as Congress legislators.

The court asked the Speaker to respond by Thursday, when the matter will come up for hearing again. The BSP has pleaded that the six MLAs should not be allowed to vote in a floor test likely to be conducted in the upcoming Assembly session in view of the matter of their disqualification being sub judice.

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