Pawan Khera | Photo: ANI
New Delhi: Congress leader Pawan Khera was on Thursday arrested by Assam Police in connection with an FIR over alleged remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the action coming soon after he was deplaned from a flight to Raipur where he was going to attend the party's plenary session.
Khera, who was in the headlines this week for apparently fumbling on the prime minister's father's name during a press conference, moved the Supreme Court to seek relief in multiple FIRs against him in Assam as well as in the Uttar Pradesh towns of Varanasi and Lucknow.
"He (Khera) has made statements in a press conference. He has made certain statements which I cannot say in the court but I personally would not have made," Khera's party colleague and senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi said in the apex court.
As political tempers ran high, Singhvi mentioned the matter for urgent listing before a bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud.
Assam Police said in court that Khera had used "derogatory remarks" against a democratically elected prime minister.
His counsel argued that he had apologised for his remarks on the prime minister and the charges against him do not require arrest.
Khera was on his way to Raipur for the Congress plenary session with several of his party colleagues when he was arrested.
"He was detained by the Delhi Police on a request by Assam Police. We were just extending support to them. The arrest has been made by them," a senior Delhi Police officer said.
A case against Khera was registered at the Haflong police station in Assam under various sections of the IPC, including 153 B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national interest), 500 (punishment for defamation) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace).
The action against the Congress' media department head began with him being deplaned from a New Delhi-Raipur flight, leading to extraordinary scenes of protest at the tarmac by Congress leaders who did not allow Khera to be taken away without an arrest warrant.
As drama escalated at terminal one of the domestic airport here and Khera was deboarded, Indigo staff initially told Congress leaders there was confusion over his bags. They said police was on its way and would explain the reason to him.
Several Congress leaders, including senior leader Randeep Surjewala, squatted on the tarmac and raised slogans against the government while on the tarmac.
"We are all on the @IndiGo6E flight 6E 204 to Raipur and all of a sudden my colleague @Pawankhera has been asked to deplane," Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate, who was also on the flight, said on Twitter.
"What sort of high handedness is this? Is there any rule of law? On what grounds is this being done and under whose order?" she said.
Senior Congress leader K C Venugopal also spoke out and accused the BJP of targeting the party's plenary session in the Chhattisgarh capital.
"It is totally condemnable the way they are doing these things. We are all going to Raipur for the plenary session, Pawan Khera was also travelling with us, suddenly they deplaned Pawan Khera without any valid reason," Venugopal told PTI at the tarmac.
"After half an hour, Delhi Police comes and says they have to hand him (Khera) over to Assam Police. We asked if there is an FIR, arrest warrant or any document, but nothing is there, only oral orders," the Congress' general secretary in-charge organisation said.
How can this happen, has India become a "banana republic", he asked.
"Three-four days back, they carried out raids in Chhattisgarh… now this," he said.
The flight was delayed and the Indigo staff said the passengers will be put on another flight to Raipur.
IndiGo said it was following the advice of concerned authorities.
"The flight is delayed as of now and we regret the inconvenience caused to other passengers," the carrier said in a statement.
"A passenger was deplaned by the police at the Delhi airport from Raipur-bound flight 6E 204. Some other passengers have also decided to deboard on their own accord," it added.
The majority of the passengers had boarded when drama ensued as Khera was asked to deplane. The passengers were taken back to the plane in buses later in the afternoon.