Kerala High Court has stayed the criminal proceedings against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s personal staff who were arrested and charged with vandalising a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi at the office of the former Wayanad MP in Kalpetta.
The single bench of Justice Raja Vijayaraghavan V. passed the interim order on Thursday, staying the proceedings against the four men for two months following their plea to quash the proceedings pending in a district court in Wayanad.
The court granted interim bail to Rahul’s personal assistant Ratheesh Kumar K.R., and personal staff Rahul Sujatha Ravindran, Mujeeb K.A. and Naudhad V., who were arrested in August last year for deliberately damaging a picture of Mahatma Gandhi allegedly to blame it on SFI activists who had earlier raided the office.
The court ordered the stay on the proceedings against the petitioners pending in the chief judicial magistrate’s court in Kalpetta during the pendency of the plea.
The SFI workers had in June 2022 barged into Rahul’s office in Kalpetta and vandalised it to protest against his alleged failure to exert pressure on the Union government to dissuade it from declaring 1km buffer zones around wildlife reserves and national parks, a step that had serious ramifications in states like Kerala.
The SFI protest followed a Supreme Court order mandating the 1km buffer zones, or ecologically sensitive zones where no constructions or livelihood activities would be allowed. All political parties had voiced concern at the negative impact on Kerala whose population density of 859 per square kilometre is double the national average and many villages and livelihood activities are tucked into such ecologically sensitive zones, especially in hill districts such as Wayanad and Idukki.
While several SFI workers who indulged in the vandalism and destruction of property, including furniture at Rahul’s office, were arrested, the subsequent police investigation based on video footage and pictures shared on various media platforms led to the arrest of the four Congress workers. They were released on station bail. The SFI workers were also released on bail.
The Congress workers, who pleaded innocence, had accused the police of framing them to deflect attention from the vandalism committed by the SFI cadres. The four were booked under IPC Section 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) for allegedly damaging the photograph of Mahatma Gandhi.
The office had been a hub of activities where local people gathered to vent their woes until the Lok Sabha secretariat disqualified Rahul following his conviction by a Surat court in a defamation case. The Wayanad constituency has since been without a representative in the Lok Sabha.
The people of Wayanad had elected Rahul with the highest ever margin in Kerala — 4,31,770 votes — in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. On his first visit after being disqualified from the Lok Sabha, Rahul had addressed a massive roadshow and told the people that he didn’t need the tag of a member of Parliament to serve the people of Wayanad throughout his life.