In Maharashtra, a 22-year-old pharmacy student Nikhil Bhamre is languishing in jail, awaiting bail for a tweet. The tweet doesn’t name anyone but hints toward Sharad Pawar, the NCP chief. Nikhil ended up annoying the leaders of the Nationalist Congress Party, which is part of the ruling alliance in the state’s Mahavikas Aghadi.
Nikhil has multiple FIRs registered against him, and in the last few days, he has been taken to at least three different cities of the state, spent nights in different jails and has been produced before different courts in different districts of Maharashtra.
Before we get into the details of the case, let’s understand the entire chronology related to the case. We spoke to Advocate Anirudh Ganu, the lawyer for Nikhil, who gave the details of the case as follows.
Nikhil is a 22-year-old student of pharmacy and is a resident of Nashik District in Maharashtra. On May 11, he took to the social microblogging website twitter and posted a tweet.
For the next two days, things were fine for Nikhil, but on May 13, an NCP leader Anand Paranjape noticed the tweet and found it objectionable; he then lodged a complaint with the Naupada Police Station in the Thane district.
The officers at Naupada Police Station, Thane, then registered an FIR No. 124 of 2022 on May 13 for offences under sections 153, 107, 506, 153A and 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Nikhil was then detained in Nashik, and thereafter, FIR No. 165 of 2022 was registered at Dindori Police Station, Nashik, on May 14. This FIR was registered for offences under sections 294, 153-A, 500, 501, 504 and 506 of the IPC in respect of the same tweet.
Yet another FIR No. 57 of 2022 was registered at Goregaon Police Station, Mumbai, on May 14, for offences under sections 153, 500, 501, 504, 505, 504, 506(2) and 34 of the IPC in respect of the same tweet.
It didn’t stop here. Nikhil had another FIR registered under his name this time. FIR No. 83 of 2022 was registered at Cyber Police Station, Shivajinagar, Pune, on May 14, in respect of the same Tweet.
On May 15, Nikhil was produced before Nashik Court, after which he was sent to two days of Police custody. Two days later, on May 17, Nikhil was produced again before Nashik Court, and this time he was remanded to Magisterial Custody.
Then on May 18, Thane police took the custody of Nikhil, and on May 19, he was produced before Thane Court, where he was remanded to Magisterial Custody and then taken back to Nashik.
From here, Pune police took Nikhil into their custody on May 20, and he was produced in the Pune Court on May 21. He was granted two days of police custody.
Then on May 23, Nikhil was produced again before the Pune Court, where he was granted Magisterial custody. Later his custody was transferred to Dehu Road Police pursuant to an FIR registered in this police station again for the very same tweet. And now Nikhil was produced before the Mawal Court in Pune Rural on June 2.
Nikhil has now moved a petition in the Bombay High Court seeking relief. He wants all the cases filed against him in different police stations of the state to be clubbed together. His lawyers argue that the rule of law wasn’t followed in his case, and relief be granted to Nikhil. The filing of multiple FIRs across the state and making Nikhil roam from one police station to another and then courts in different districts is a misuse of power.
Nikhil’s advocate Ganu cites a recent case of popular editor Arnab Ranjan Goswami Vs the Union of India and Ors (2020), Ganus says that the Supreme Court held that multiple FIRs arising out of the same incident is an abuse of the process and impermissible and thus all subsequent FIRs and complaints were directed to be quashed.
Ganu cites another case, this time again of an editor, Amish Devgan Vs Union of India (2020), in this case, the Supreme Court, interpreting Sections 179 and 186 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, transferred and clubbed all the subsequent FIRs with the first registered FIR.
According to Ganu, the cases were registered in a synchronised and organised manner to harass Nikhil and keep them behind bars for a longer period, and he terms it a brutal abuse of power.
Nikhil’s isn’t the only case. There also is a small-time Marathi actress Ketaki Chitale, who is behind bars for posting a verse which again didn’t name anyone but hinted towards Sharad Pawar again. Chitale also ended up offending the NCP leaders and what followed in her case is the same as that of Nikhil’s multiple FIRs.
Ketaki was moved from one police station to another, one court to another and one jail to another. Reports stated that she had initially refused legal help but later on accepted it. Ketaki was arrested on May 14, and just like Nikhil, while going to print, she’s yet to be out.
In Nikhil’s case, we also spoke to Anand Paranjape, the NCP functionary who was the first to approach the police station against Nikhil’s tweet. A brief background on Anand first, he is a two-time Member of Parliament. First, he represented the Thane parliamentary constituency and then Kalyan parliamentary constituency both times from the Shiv Sena. He then shifted his allegiance to NCP and is currently the President of Thane NCP.
According to Anand, when he saw the tweet by Nikhil, he wrote a complaint to the Naupada Police station and two days later, the police registered the case. “The police registered the case, only after they found substance in the complaint,” says Anand.
When asked Anand that several complaints leading to FIRs against a student were being registered across the state, isn’t it a misuse of power and plus Nikhil is merely a student? Anand claimed, “One should be aware of the consequences of their words. I was the first one to register the FIR as I found his tweet objectionable, and I did it as I have the right to complain in a democracy.”
According to Anand, in a democracy, you have the right to oppose anyone ideologically but not use words or do things that could lead to enmity between sects and groups. Anand said, “Look at him (Nikhil) he doesn’t come across as an intellectual to tweet something like this on his own, there are surely people behind him, he has been brainwashed.”
On the multiple FIRs and misuse of state powers, Anand says that Nikhil should approach a court for it but then adds that the police registered the case only when they found substance in the complaints.
In April 2022, in Maharashtra, a Congress delegation had met the Governor to condemn the arrest of Gujarat independent legislator Jignesh Mewani by the Assam police for an Anti-Modi tweet. We tried speaking to Sachin Sawant, the General Secretary of Congress in Maharashtra. Why were they not speaking for Nikhil or Ketaki, who is also behind bars for their social media posts as Congress shares power with the Shiv Sena and NCP in the state.
Sawant said, “There’s a difference between criticism and using abusive language. The criticism by Mewani was political, whereas that of Ketaki Chiktale was abusive. Jignesh got relief from the court. I am not much aware about the status of the cases here.”
As we write about Nikhil, according to Ganu, Nikhil missed his exams last week as he was being taken to different jails, police stations and courts.