Union minister Narayan Rane had made an 'unparliamentary' remark against the then Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, but it does not amount to promoting enmity under law as he didn't target any community, a magistrate court has said while discharging the Bharatiya Janata Party leader.
The court in Raigad on Saturday also ruled that material and documents on records do not disclose the existence of all the ingredients of offences against Rane.
Therefore, the charges against the accused are found 'groundless', the court said.
The case against the BJP leader was registered in 2021.
The statement made by the accused can be said as 'controversial and politically insensitive' which is not expected from a person who holds the post of Union minister, the court added.
Chief Judicial Magistrate (Raigad-Alibag) S W Ugale made the observations while discharging Rane on Saturday in the case pertaining to his controversial remark against Thackeray.
The detailed order was available on Sunday.
The court had issued summons to Rane for offences under Indian Penal Code Sections 153 A(1 b) (promoting enmity between different groups), 505(2) statements conducing to public mischief), 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), and 506 (criminal intimidation) after taking cognisance of the chargesheet filed by Mahad police in Raigad.
The Union minister had said, 'It is shameful that the chief minister (Uddhav Thackeray) does not know the year of independence. He leaned back to enquire about the count of years of independence during his speech. Had I been there, I would have given (him) a tight slap.'
He had claimed Thackeray forgot the year of independence during his August 15 address to the people of the state.
Rane had defended his remarks against Thackeray, saying he did not commit any crime by making the comments.
Thackeray served as the chief minister of Maharashtra from November 2019 to June 2022.
"Rane allegedly made a statement on the (then) chief minister's conduct. He didn't make any statement which was promoting enmity between different groups on the ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever," his lawyer Satish Maneshinde had submitted during the hearing of the discharge application.
Furthermore, the alleged statement was not likely to cause any disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, the advocate had argued.
The case was politically motivated and hence, bad in law, Maneshinde had said.
On the charges of promoting enmity between groups and public mischief, the magistrate court held the accused is a political figure having a mass following and not only that but he is also a Union minister.
"This is sufficient to say that he is a person of influence and whatever he speaks (he) has knowledge of its reaction. He made an un parliamentary remark against the then Chief Minister of the State and being an influential figure in the political arena and having long-standing experience in politics, very well knew the outcome of the said word and what will happen thereafter in society," the magistrate noted.
"He is expected to know and perceive the meaning conveyed by the words he spoke. So, whatever statement made by the accused, had been made not only with knowledge but with intention too and that knowledge and intention can be gathered from the words itself which he uttered in regard to the then chief minister and surrounding circumstances," the court said.
According to the prosecution, the words used by the accused are in respect of the then chief minister, who belongs to a particular political party which can be understood as a community for the sake of section 153 A or 505(2) of the IPC, and due to the remark made by the accused there was violence in the society thereafter.
However, the court said there is no reference to any community in the statement made by the accused which the prosecution is trying to put forth.
The relevant Criminal Procedure Code does not allow to presume or assume something to stretch the things to anyhow connect or link the accusation with the accused, it said.
Whatever finds in charge sheet and documents submitted along with it shall be taken into consideration on its face value without stretching the imagination.
So, there is no targeted and non-targeted group or community in the words spoken by the accused. The very basic requirement to attract the offences punishable under section 153 A and 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code is missing, the court said.
The accused has also been chargesheeted under IPC Section 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace).
The court said this section mandates a person who has been insulted by the accused must be an aggrieved person and that person must be provoked to break the public peace or to commit an offence.
Here, the words uttered by the accused are in respect of the then chief minister. Obviously, the person who has occupied that post will not break the public peace or commit any offence nor there is a case of the prosecution that the insulted person (the then CM) has caused to break the public peace or can commit any offence.
The informant (complainant) has not been insulted by the accused, therefore, he is not the person who has been insulted and provoked to breach the public peace. Hence he is not an aggrieved person, within the meaning of section 504 of IPC, the court said.
On criminal intimidation charges, the court said the alleged threat that "If it was me, I would have slapped him" is not a concrete or immediate threat in the form of criminal intimidation.
"Threat under the guise of if and then do not fall under this section. The threat should really mean and should be immediate. I will slap him or am going to slap him may be considered as an immediate threat and falls under the terminology of 'criminal intimidation' but not the so-called threat in the form of if and then," the court said.
The court ruled that material and documents on records do not disclose the existence of all the ingredients constituting the alleged offences.
Therefore, the charges against the accused are found 'groundless' and he is entitled for discharge of the said offences, it added.