New Delhi :The Supreme Court on Friday granted protection from arrest to senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – national vice president Mukul Roy, state -vice-president Arjun Singh and national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, along with Pawan Singh and Saurav Singh – after they complained to the court that the West Bengal government was preventing them from entering the state where elections are due next year by foisting false cases against them.
In petitions before the top court, the leaders contended that cases were lodged against them by West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) soon after they left the party and joined the BJP. Arjun Singh, who is a BJP Member of Parliament from Barrackpore said that 64 cases under petty offences were registered against him at various places in the state starting from March 2019, which was when he left the TMC.
The two political parties are in the middle of a pitched battle ahead of next year’s assembly polls, in which the BJP is gunning to wrest power from the TMC and its two-term chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
Appearing for Singh, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi told a three-judge bench headed by justice SK Kaul that the cases registered against other petitioners — Mukul Roy, Pawan Singh and Saurav Singh — followed the same pattern, as the cases were lodged soon after they joined the BJP. Pawan Singh is the son of Arjun Singh and is a member of West Bengal legislative assembly; Arjun Singh’s nephew Saurav Singh is a councillor in the Bhatpara Municipality in the state which falls under the Barrackpore parliamentary constituency.
Rohatgi also said that 17 cases were filed against former MP Mukul Roy since he left the TMC on September 22, 2017 after a falling out with CM Banerjee. Roy joined the BJP on November 3, 2017. Two years ago, the Calcutta high court quashed of the 12 cases filed against Roy.
The petitions demanded that these FIRs be investigated by an independent agency, preferably the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Representing Vijayvargiya, his lawyer Prashant Kumar, argued that though he is an MP from Madhya Pradesh and does not stay in West Bengal, yet cases have been lodged against him in order to prevent him from visiting the state to perform his party responsibilities.
Rohatgi contended that the TMC government has a pattern of foisting false cases against political opponents. He referred to the case of former officer of the Indian Police Service (IPS) Bharati Ghosh, who joined BJP last year, eventually approached the Supreme Court for protection after 11 FIRs came to be registered against her ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
“Let there be an order that no coercive steps shall be taken against us or else they will succeed in their plans to keep us away from elections scheduled for February-March next year,” Rohatgi submitted.
The bench, which also included justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy, after holding discussions, said that the petitioners need to be protected in the interim. “Till the next date of hearing there will be no coercive steps in any of the cases against the petitioners,” the court ruled, while issuing notices on each petitions to the West Bengal government, the TMC, the West Bengal director general of police, the state home secretary, the Union of India, and CBI.
The matter has been posted for hearing in the week commencing January 3.
TMC leaders refused to comment, saying it is a judicial matter.
Roy and Singh welcomed the ruling, saying their stand has been vindicated.
“We have been saying for a long time that the West Bengal police press charges against BJP leaders and workers to serve their political masters. We stand vindicated,” Roy said after the ruling came.
“The only job of the West Bengal police is to register new cases against me. This has been happening ever since Mamata Banerjee realised that she is on the verge of losing power,” said Singh.
Columnist and political commentator Suvashis Maitra said, “The court probably took into the account the elections in Bengal. This is indeed a good ruling. Leaders from all parties should be free to take part in political exercise. The investigations can continue.”
Meanwhile, BJP spokesperson and former TMC leader Kabir Bose also approached the top court seeking similar relief against the state government, stating in his petition that TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee was seeking his arrest after he filed for annulment of marriage with Banerjee’s daughter in 2015 and joined BJP.
On December 6, Bose’s car was attacked and he was unlawfully restrained from moving out of his house.
The court separated Bose’s petition from the rest of the matters, and issued a separate notice on Bose’s petition. It also directed the CISF’s Special Security Group to submit the Special Incident Report of December 6 on the next date of hearing in a sealed cover. The court said it will take a call on granting protection from arrest to Bose after going through the report.
TMC Lok Sabha member and lawyer Kalyan Banerjee was not available for comment.