The Supreme Court yesterday granted bail to a Bharatiya Janata Party activist who was arrested last week for sharing a meme of West Bengal chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rivals.
Priyanka Sharma’s arrest for sharing a meme on Facebook that superimposed Banerjee’s head on a picture of Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra sporting frizzy hair at the Met Gala in New York was criticised as a curb on free speech.
West Bengal is key to Modi’s chances for a second term in office, especially as the BJP is expected to lose many seats in the country’s north.
Sharma, who had been remanded in custody, is a member of the youth wing of the BJP.
“Sharma is directed to be released immediately, without any condition,” Supreme Court judge Indira Banerjee said in a ruling after withdrawing an initial order that Sharma apologise to Banerjee.
Benerjee’s Trinamool Congress Party had called the meme an insult to the people of West Bengal, while Sharma’s family said her arrest was politically motivated.
“An apology would have meant death knell for freedom of expression and would have legitimised brute use of state force to silence political adversaries,” Amit Malviya, the head of the BJP’s information and technology group, said on Twitter.
Political differences between the two parties have often led to tensions and violence in the state.
Both parties have accused each other of killings, beatings, vandalism and making false allegations to the police.
Yesterday, Trinamool Congress youth wing activists allegedly threw stones at BJP president Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata, triggering clashes in which three motorbikes were set ablaze.
Shah blamed the Trinamool Congress for the violence.
“There were disturbances in two places during my rally here as the Trinamool supporters tried to create violence and threw stones and bricks at us,” he said.
Earlier a controversy erupted hours before Shah’s rally after banners and posters of BJP leaders including that of the prime minister were removed from the roadside.
Shah was scheduled to hold a roadshow from central Kolkata’s Shahid Minar to Swami Vivekananda’s residence in north Kolkata’s Maniktala in the afternoon.
Just two hours before the roadshow, a large number of cutouts and banners of Shah, Modi and north Kolkata’s BJP candidate Rahul Sinha, were removed from a long stretch of Lenin Sarani.
BJP leaders accused the Trinamool gocvernment of “resorting to hooliganism” to impede Shah’s rally and alleged that the state’s ruling party activists were deliberately damaging the posters and cutouts while removing them.
“The Election Commission has given us permission to hold the roadshow. How is it possible that party banners and flags are not allowed on the road? The Bengal government’s hooliganism is going on here. We will talk to the EC about this,” BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said.
Police claimed the drive was taken up under the direct instruction of the Election Commission, as the posters were put up on state government properties without permission.
India’s seven-phase general election, which began on April 11, ends on May 19 and results will be out on May 23.
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