NEW DELHI, Dec 6: A senior Trinamool Congress leader and one of the party’s national spokepersons Saket Gokhale was picked up by the Gujarat police from Jaipur on Monday evening and brought him to Ahmedabad for tweeting a report about prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Morbi bridge collapse site which was claimed to be a “fake news.”
He was produced before a magisterial court in Ahmedabad on Tuesday and was remanded to the police custody till December 8. He will face charges like forgery, which could lead to five years in jail.
Gokhale was arrested over a complaint filed against him by BJP leader Amit Kothari with the Ahmedabad police for allegedly tweeting a fake news about Modi’s visit to Morbi after the suspension bridge collapse in which 135 people were killed. The prosecution contended that Gokhale’s custody was required to investigate the purpose of tweeting a “fake and false tweet.” They also pointed out that there were two photos embedded in Gokhale’s tweet which referred to a newspaper cutting which was uploaded by another Twitter handle by the name of “Dax Patel”. The police wanted to check whether Gokhale was in touch with ‘Dax Patel’, it added.
The police said as per the complaint filed, Gokhale had allegedly shared in what looked like a news clipping about an RTI query and its response where he claimed that ₹30 crore was spent on Modi’s Morbi visit, after the bridge collapse incident there. The Press Information Bureau (PIB) in its fact-check on December 1 said, “This claim is fake. No such RTI response has been given.” The Ahmedabad-based Gujarati newspaper named in the clippings denied that they had filed any RTI query on the issue.
Gokhale was picked up by the Gujarat police without the knowledge of its counterpart in Rajasthan soon after he flew in Jaipur from Delhi on a private visit. The Gujarat police, however, kept his arrest under wrap till the TMC Rajya Sabha member Derek O’Brien tweeted about the information on Tuesday morning.
“At 2 in the morning on Tuesday, he called his mother and told her that they are taking him to Ahmedabad and he would reach Ahmedabad by noon today. The police let him make that one two-minute phone call and then confiscated his phone and all his belongings,” Mr O’Brien said in a series of tweets. The case against the RTI activist-turned-politician has been “cooked up by the Ahmedabad [police] cyber cell about Saket’s tweet on the Morbi bridge collapse,” he added.
The Rajasthan police said they had no information about Gokhale’s arrest and the Gujarat police later confirmed that it did not inform their Rajasthan counterpart about the move. “Saket Gokhale was an accused in a case in the state of Gujarat. Gujarat police went and detained him. We followed the legal process. Saket Gokhale wasn’t informed or asked to come to Gujarat. We intercepted him in Rajasthan and picked him up from there,” the sources said.
Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee slammed the BJP for a ‘vindictive attitude’ and backed Gokhale saying that he did no wrong. “It’s a very bad, and sad (incident). Saket (Gokhale) is a bright man. He is very popular on social media. He has made no mistake,” Banerjee said. “I condemn this vindictive attitude. He (Saket) has been arrested because he tweeted against the prime minister. People also tweet against me… We are really feeling sorry…” the chief minister said..
The Trinamool leader was also backed by party general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, who said his arrest was a ‘panic-stricken’ reaction by the BJP.
“Fearless… Gokhale stood against the ruling dispensation that trades lives for its own profit.
The December 1 tweet cited a Right to Information (RTI) reply that “revealed the PM’s visit to Morbi cost the Gujarat government ₹ 30 crore”, far more than the compensation given to victims (a total of ₹ 5 crore). This was flagged as “fake” by the government’s fact-check unit the same day.
Sources in the Gujarat police cyber cell said “The entire RTI was manufactured by Saket Gokhale” pointing out that it usually takes about two months for an RTI reply. Mr Gokhale told reporters that it was “an irony” he had been arrested for the tweet when those guilty of causing the bridge tragedy – the owner of the Oreva company hired for bridge repair and maintenance – were “free.”
The Gujarat police confirmed having detained Mr Gokhale only after Derek O’Brien’s tweet. O’Brien said Gokhale had taken a Monday night flight from Delhi to Jaipur, from where he was “picked up” by Gujarat police. He had a heart surgery recently and was on a private visit to Jaipur.
Over 130 people were killed at Gujarat’s Morbi town when the just- renovated colonial-era bridge collapsed on October 30, four days after the bridge was re-opened after carrying out the “necessary repairs.” Modi who was in Gujarat, his home state, then campaigning for his party visited the town on November 1 and met the injured, besides going to the tragedy site.