What are the cases against Hardik, and how can they impact his political career? The Indian Express explains.
The cases registered against Hardik Patel
Hardik has been named as an accused in at least 30 FIRs filed between 2015 and 2018. Of these, seven were registered in 2015, implicating Hardik for several criminal offences such as rioting and sedition during the agitation in Gujarat to demand quota for the Patidar community in government jobs and education.
The Patidar agitation also saw lodging of FIRs against Hardik for purported internal disputes. For instance, an FIR was lodged at Kadi police station in Mehsana in August 2015 on a complaint by the then Sardar Patel Group vice-president Prakash Patel, alleging offences of financial fraud against Hardik.
Other cases include a 2016 FIR at Sachin police station in Surat under the Prisons Act following recovery of a mobile phone charger and battery and a letter from his pocket when he was being taken to Visnagar for a court hearing. This was disposed of by a Surat JMFC in 2017.
According to Hardik, currently, he has 23 cases against him.
In an undertaking before the Gujarat High Court in 2016 while seeking relief in relation to the cases lodged against him, Hardik had submitted on oath that “if granted discretionary reliefs”, he shall continue to protest to highlight the grievances of the Patidar community “without indulging directly or indirectly into any activity which may amount to an offence inviting criminal prosecution.” The undertaking further added, “(he) shall not do or indulge in any acts or activities disturbing the law and order across the state”, and that he shall not indulge in any acts or activities “instigating the public at large in any manner” .
Subsequent rallies and protests stemming from the Patidar agitation of 2015 resulted in FIRs against Hardik in 2016, 2017 and 2018, a point that has often been used by the Gujarat government to oppose Hardik’s pleas for relief in terms of suspension of sentence, bail or any other relaxation in bail conditions. Most of these FIRs were related to violation of executive authority’s orders against unlawful assembly in violation of CrPC Section 144, or for holding rallies or public gatherings despite the state authority’s refusal to grant permission for the same.
What is the current status of the cases against Hardik Patel?
At present, Hardik faces court proceedings under at least 11 FIRs, pending at various stages of trial, with two of the trials including the offence of sedition — one on an FIR by Detection of Crime Branch police station of Ahmedabad, and another in relation to an FIR lodged at Amroli police station in Surat. The remaining cases have either been withdrawn by the state, quashed by the Gujarat HC, decided on by a competent court, or no proceedings have been initiated.
Hardik was sentenced to two years of imprisonment in one case by a Visnagar court in July 2018 for rioting and arson. The incident involved setting on fire BJP MLA Rushikesh Patel’s office in Visnagar in 2015 during an agitation. Rushikesh is now the state health minister.
With an appeal pending before the Gujarat HC, the Supreme Court in April this year stayed the operation of the conviction until the appeals are decided. Hardik had attempted to get a stay on the conviction from Gujarat HC to be eligible to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but the court had refused to stay the conviction order.
Recently, two permits permitted the Gujarat government to withdraw cases against Hardik; one was withdrawn in October 2020 in relation to a 2017 FIR lodged in Morbi district’s Tankara for organising a public rally without permission, and the second was permitted by an Ahmedabad court in May this year in relation to a 2017 FIR at Ramol police station relating to vandalism of the residence of a BJP corporator. At least two other cases were disposed of by a Vadodara court and a Surat court respectively, for default in procedure of the prosecution, by not adhering to the set precedent laid down, and CrPC provisions for trying offences to IPC section 188.
The Gujarat also quashed the FIR and chargesheet in December in relation to a 2017 Bal FIR lodged for a roadshow in violation of police’s refusal to grant permission for the event.
Hardik’s plea for quashing of a 2017 FIR filed at Patan B Division police station, alling loot and assault, is pending before the Gujarat HC, as is another petition seeking quashing of a case for a November 2017 alleging violation of election code for a rally without permission.
In July 2016, the Gujarat HC, while granting Hardik bail in the 2015 sedition case, had imposed the condition that he shall remain outside the limits of the state of Gujarat for a period of six months from the date of his release from judicial custody, and that he shall not change the address of where he will be residing for these six months without prior permission of court. Hardik spent this time of exile in Rajasthan’s Udaipur.
In January 2020, after the Patidar leader was arrested for failing to appear for the trial in the 2015 sedition case, the Ahmedabad trial court had granted bail on the condition that stipulated Hardik seeking the court’s permission prior to leaving Gujarat. Hardik had moved Gujarat HC seeking deletion of this condition but his plea was dismissed, which he challenged before the Supreme Court.
In June 2021, an Ahmedabad trial court permitted Hardik to travel out of Gujarat without prior permission for a period of one year, but in November 2021, the SC quashed the bail condition.
Following Hardik’s conviction in 2018 for rioting and arson of Rushikesh Patel’s office, he was granted bail but on the condition that he will not enter Mehsana district after the state government had pointed out that his presence in the district had created law and order issues. While Hardik had moved Gujarat HC seeking a temporary modification in December 2019 to permit him to enter Mehsana, he had withdrawn the plea after the HC had expressed its reluctance to allow the plea.
Although the SC stay on conviction in the Visnagar case may imply that conditions imposed as part of the conviction may not be operational, Hardik has decided not to enter the district till Gujarat HC clarifies on the specific aspect during the course of his appeal.
Contesting elections for politicians facing conviction
As per provisions of the Representation of People’s Act, a convicted person cannot contest elections unless the conviction is stayed and a sitting MP/MLA, if convicted during the tenure of holding the seat, is liable to be disqualified from the seat three months after the date of conviction verdict unless an appellate court stays the conviction. Given the Supreme Court’s September 2020 order in a public interest litigation where it had directed to speedily decide on criminal cases against sitting or former legislators, the pending cases against Hardik remain a hanging sword over his election prospects.
In August 2021, the top court had also directed that criminal cases against MPs/MLAs cannot be withdrawn without High Court’s permission.