Terror charges invoked in Parliament security breach case

Police call the act a ‘well-planned’ conspiracy, say accused carried a pamphlet with PM’s picture; 6th suspect, who filmed protest outside Parliament, absconding; 8 security personnel suspended

December 14, 2023 01:52 pm | Updated 11:20 pm IST - New Delhi

Paramilitary personnel stand guard during the Winter Session of Parliament in New Delhi on December 14, 2023.

Paramilitary personnel stand guard during the Winter Session of Parliament in New Delhi on December 14, 2023. | Photo Credit: ANI

A day after a major security breach in the Lok Sabha, the Delhi Police invoked sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, an anti-terror law, against four accused persons, as well as sections of the Indian Penal Code related to criminal conspiracy, trespass, provoking a riot, and obstructing a public servant in the discharge of functions.

A fifth accused will be presented in court on Friday, while the sixth, who filmed the protest outside Parliament and uploaded the video to social media platforms, was arrested from Kartavya Path, metres away from the Parliament building in Delhi. A police source said Lalit Jha walked to the police post at Kartavya Path and presented himself before the police. He was arrested subsequently. 

The Lok Sabha Secretariat has suspended eight security personnel for the incident, a senior government official said.

‘Pamphlet shows PM as proclaimed offender’

Seeking custody of the four, the Delhi Police told a court on Thursday that the act was “a well-planned” conspiracy and an attack on the Parliament of India, adding that the accused might also be associated with terrorist organisations.

One of the accused had posted on social media a pamphlet with a photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the word ‘Missing’ plastered over it. “Please see the pamphlet they were carrying,” Additional Public Prosecutor (APP) Atul Srivastava told the court of Additional Sessions Judge Hardeep Kaur. “It has a picture of our Prime Minister who is shown as a missing person. They have declared a reward to be paid by Swiss bank.... They tried to show PM like a proclaimed offender,” he added.

The four accused who were produced in court — Manoranjan D., Sagar Sharma, Amol Shinde, and Neelam Devi — were sent to seven days of police custody against the police request for a 15-day remand. Before ruling on police custody, the court provided legal aid to the accused since none of them had a lawyer. One of the accused told the court that he had not spoken to his family since he was arrested.

Probes in Mumbai, Lucknow

Explaining the need for a 15-day remand, the police pointed to the geographical requirements of the probe. The submitted in the court that the accused had created a group on social media called ‘Bhagat Singh Fan Club’. They had then bought shoes from Lucknow and gas canisters from Mumbai, creating a cavity in the shoes to carry the canisters into the Parliament building.

“In order to take the accused to Mumbai and Lucknow for investigation, this much time is needed,” the police submitted.

The counsel for the accused argued that four or five days would be sufficient to undertake the exercise, to which the prosecutor retorted that the police have to investigate the case and not just go and touch Mysuru and Mumbai. The court later allowed seven days police custody.

Protest videos uploaded

The fifth accused, Vishal Sharma, in whose Gurugram home the group met, will appear in court on Friday.

Mr. Jha, the sixth accused, allegedly had the phones of four of the other suspects. He describes himself as a “teacher” on his Instagram profile and is associated with the Samyabadi Subhas Sabha, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in West Bengal.

At 12:43 p.m. on Wednesday, even before the chaos began inside Parliament, Mr. Jha uploaded a 30-second video clip on Facebook, showing Ms. Devi and Mr. Shinde setting off canisters emitting yellow and red smoke and shouted slogans outside the Parliament building. The video was captioned: “Protest against the dictatorship government outside the MP”. At 1:04 p.m., he uploaded a longer version of the video on Instagram.

Also Read | Security breach in parliament a major lapse, says Chidambaram

West Bengal link

Around the same time, Mr. Jha sent the video to Nilakhya Aich, a student at the Bidhhannagar Government College in West Bengal, who is the founder of the NGO named after Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Mr. Aich said that Mr. Jha had asked him to save the video and watch the media coverage related to it.

Mr. Aich met Mr. Jha at a seminar in Kolkata in April this year, he said. “I never thought that he would do anything so violent. He had never shared any motive for such protests to me,” Mr. Aich said, adding that the Delhi Police had asked him not to give any interviews to the media.

Mr. Jha has Swami Vivekananda’s photograph as his profile photo on Instagram and Facebook. He has shared several posts on Bhagat Singh, Subhash Chandra Bose, Rashbehari Bose, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Rabindranath Tagore, Binoba Bhave, and Fidel Castro, and quoted poets and writers such as Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Avtar Singh Sandhu alias Pash, and Harishankar Parsai.

Residents of Kolkata’s Burrabazar area say that Mr. Jha had stayed there in a rented one-room apartment for for several years, and used to teach students, but had vacated the room about one-and-a-half years ago. His family hails from Bihar and his father had worked as a priest in certain neighborhoods of Kolkata.

Planned reconnaissance

A police source said that Manoranjan D., one of the intruders in the Lok Sabha, had conducted a reconnaissance of the Parliament during the Budget Session and noticed that visitors were not asked to remove their shoes. As on Wednesday, it was BJP MP Pratap Simha who had facilitated his entry into Parliament in February, using a visitor’s pass.

The police source indicated that the protest had been planned a year ago. The group, belonging to diverse social and educational backgrounds, and different parts of the country, had met in Gurugram on December 10. While Mr. Sagar Sharma drives an e-rickshaw in Lucknow, Mr. Manoranjan helped his father with farming. Ms. Devi, daughter of a halwai, holds an M.Phil degree and has cleared various competitive examinations. Mr. Shinde, on the other hand, had unsuccessfully appeared for several police recruitment examinations.

Drop UAPA charges: khap panchayat

Meanwhile, local Khap and farmer leaders, and social activists, held a panchayat in Haryana’s Narwana on Thursday, seeking Ms. Devi’s immediate release and demanding that the terror charges be dropped.

Adopting a three-point resolution at the panchayat, Haryana Sanyukt Kisan Morcha member Azad Palwa said that Ms. Devi had raised her voice against unemployment, dictatorship, and for farmers and small traders issues. Admitting that the method adopted by the protesting youth may not be right, the panchayat insisted that it would support the issues they have raised. He also demanded that the UAPA case registered against Ms. Devi be withdrawn. “Her intention was not to harm anyone. The law under which the charges have been invoked is very stringent,” said Mr. Palwa.

‘Demonstrators, not terrorists’

The panchayat resolution, also appealed to the media to question the government on the issue of unemployment, and the demands of the farmers and the small traders. “The media must bring the government to dock over its promise for two crore jobs every year. Such is the state of unemployment that students with professional degrees are applying for Class IV posts in government departments,” said Mr. Palwa.

Majra Khap spokesperson Samundar Singh demanded that the role of the BJP MP who had facilitated the entry of the two youth, and the security agencies also be investigated. “Those raising slogans of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” (Long live Mother India) cannot be terrorists. At the best, they can be called demonstrators. But if they are charged under the terror law, the role of the MP and security agencies should also be probed. It could be a conspiracy to defame the farmers, and the Opposition,” said Mr. Singh.

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