In a blow to Bharatiya Janata Party Lok Sabha candidate Varun Gandhi, the Allahabad High Court on Wednesday rejected his plea for quashing of an FIR filed against him for his alleged anti-Muslim speeches in Pilibhit.
In its order, a division bench comprising justices Imtiyaz Murtaza and S C Nigam said, 'the petition stands dismissed'.
In his petition, 29-year-old Gandhi had challenged the FIR filed on March 17 at Barkheda Police Station under Sections 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion) and 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 125 of the Representation of the People Act.
The charges entail a maximum punishment of three years jail term or fine or both.
Asked if Gandhi could be taken into custody, his counsel Gopal Chaturvedi said outside the court that "arrest is a matter of satisfaction of the investigating officer".
Noting that the Delhi High Court has granted him anticipatory bail, he said, the investigating officer "has to be satisfied that that the arrest is necessary. He doesn't have to arrest merely because he has the power to arrest or it is a cognisable offence. He need not arrest at all".
Chaturvedi said Gandhi "is free to move anywhere in the country".
On the high court order, he said, "The court was primarily of the view that since you have already approached one court for a similar relief, why should you approach the Allahabad High Court for the same relief?"
On whether the high court order will be challenged in the Supreme Court, Chaturvedi said, "I am sure they will, although it may not be necessary as far as the proceedings are concerned.
"But I am sure when a petition is being filed, then everything that has been said against Gandhi will be questioned before the Supreme Court," he said.
Gandhi, in his petition, had alleged that the video footage of a public meeting, on the basis of which the Election Commission had taken the action, "had been tampered with" and did not contain his voice.
The grandson of former prime minister Indira Gandhi had claimed that the FIR, which was lodged nine days after he made the speeches, was "a part of a political conspiracy" to ruin his political career and tarnish his "secular image".
The FIR has accused Gandhi of having delivered an "inciting speech" that "caused insecurity in the minds of one particular community".
It has said that the meetings addressed by Gandhi were held without obtaining permission and in violation of prohibitory orders under Section 144 CrPC imposed by the local administration.
Chaturvedi said, "Our stand is that the entire CD is doctored. It is fabricated and words have been put which he has never said. And we think it is tampered".
The counsel also claimed that the Election Commission "can make only recommendations that are not binding on the party or its candidates.
"It is some kind of an elder brother's advice that don't let this person contest the election for these reasons," he said, adding the Commission's views have also been questioned.