Lucknow, March 29: Congress candidate Imran Masood, accused of threatening to “cut” Narendra Modi into pieces, was arrested today for his alleged hate speech but seemed on course for the election battle less than a fortnight away.
A senior Uttar Pradesh Congress leader said it wouldn’t be wise to drop Masood now, while Rahul Gandhi went ahead with his Saharanpur rally, though he stressed on the “politics of love”.
A Congress source had earlier said Rahul’s scheduled rally was being deferred following the Saharanpur candidate’s arrest.
The state’s chief election officer, Umesh Sinha, said his office had “sought a report from the district magistrate of Saharanpur on the alleged hate speech”.
Masood was arrested in a pre-dawn swoop when a 20-member team led by senior superintendent of police (SSP) Manoj Kumar and other senior officials raided his house in Saharanpur town and took him into custody.
“The arrest was made on the basis of an FIR lodged against him yesterday. This relates to a video footage in which he had threatened to cut Modi into pieces. This morning he was arrested and an investigation is in progress,” Kumar told reporters.
The early-morning raid followed the circulation of a compact disc in which a person purported to be Masood is heard saying: “Hum Modi ki kutti kaat denge (We will cut Modi to pieces).”
He was also heard saying in the clip: “UP is not Gujarat. There is only 4 per cent Muslim population in Gujarat but in UP there are 22 per cent Muslims. I will fight against Narendra Modi because I know how to give a fitting reply to him. I am a man on the street and not afraid of death.”
SSP Kumar said Masood faced charges under sections including the penal code’s 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace), and 506 (criminal intimidation); and Section 125 (promoting enmity between classes) of the Representation of People Act. If convicted, he could be jailed for three to five years.
Masood was produced in a local court, which sent him to judicial custody for 15 days.
The 41-year-old, who was earlier with the Samajwadi Party, remained defiant. “I smell a BJP conspiracy behind all this drama. I don’t have any remorse as I have done nothing wrong. I will apologise neither to Narendra Modi nor to the BJP,” he told television reporters while being produced in the court.
In Delhi, a BJP delegation including senior leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi appealed to the Election Commission to “disqualify” Masood. But a senior leader of the Congress, which had distanced itself from the alleged hate speech, said the party was in no position to replace Masood as the April 10 election in Saharanpur was less than a fortnight away. “I don’t think it is wise to change a candidate when the election is just about 12 days away,” said former Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi.
Legal experts said there was no way the Congress would be able to replace Masood if he is disqualified as the last date of withdrawing nominations was over. “As far as I remember, there is no history of disqualifying a candidate by the Election Commission after officially declaring him a contestant from a constituency,” Ashoke Nigam, former additional solicitor general of India, said.
On the hate speech charge, Nigam said: “The EC may have the option of getting a written apology. Disqualification is a last option. If the EC disqualifies the candidate, the Congress will have no option but to go without a candidate from the constituency. However, the silver lining is that the process of disqualification will continue beyond the election process, it can’t be done before the poll.”
At the rally in Gandhi Park in Saharanpur this afternoon, Rahul asked Congress supporters to “engage in the politics of love”. “We’ll defeat anger with love,” he told the impressive gathering.
Alluding to Masood’s alleged hate speech, Rahul said: “This is not the culture of the Congress party. We should fight for unity. Congress ideology is about taking everybody along. The opposition plays politics of anger. No matter what the opposition says about us, we always should fight anger with love, we don’t fight darkness with darkness, we fight it with light, this is the difference between us and them.”
Congress leaders cited Varun Gandhi’s alleged hate speech in 2009 in Pilibhit. “Varun Gandhi had made a more provocative speech in 2009. He too was arrested for making a hate speech against members of the minority community butů he was never disqualified. He contested the election and won,” Congress spokesman Amarnath Agarwal said.
Varun is alleged to have threatened to “chop off” the hands of those who dared to attack women from the majority community.
The BJP leader was acquitted by a local court in Pilibhit last year.