Kasaragod: BJP state president K Surendran and five other party leaders, facing charges of threatening and bribing Scheduled Caste candidate K Sundara to withdraw from the Manjeshwar Assembly election in 2021, have filed an application to discharge them from the case, saying it won't stand the scrutiny of law.
But for the third time, they did not appear before the Kasaragod Sessions Court, which is hearing the case.
On September 12, when Surendran failed to appear in the court despite being in Kasaragod, Sessions Judge K K Balakrishnan directed all the accused to be compulsorily present on Thursday, September 21.
The other accused in the case are BJP state committee member and senior lawyer K Balakrishna Shetty, BJP district secretary Manikanda Rai, BJP's Manjeshwar constituency secretary Suresha Y, former Yuva Morcha leader and Surendran's confidant in Kozhikode Sunil Kumar alias Sunil Naik, and party worker Logesh Londa.
They were charged with the stringent Section 3 (1) (l) (B) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which deals with forcing or intimidating a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe community to withdraw his nomination papers. Sundara belongs to the Mogar Scheduled Caste.
All the accused were absent again when the case came up on Thursday.
But on Monday, September 18, the BJP leaders, through their advocate Hari P V filed an application to discharge them from the case under Section 227 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
In criminal cases, after the police file the charge sheet, the accused can approach the sessions court under Section 227 to discharge them from the case before the court frames the charges against them.
When the Sessions judge took up the discharge application on Thursday, Special Public Prosecutor C Shukkur told the court to issue warrants against the accused, considering they did not appear in court for the third time in a row.
However, defence counsel Hari told the court not to insist on the presence of the accused when it was hearing the discharge petition. "Then the judge asked if he could hear a discharge petition without the presence of the accused. We said yes," said Adv Hari.
But the judge did not buy it and asked the defence lawyer to argue on it on October 4. "So in the next hearing we will argue whether the presence of the accused is required when the court is considering the discharge petition," said the defence counsel.
Special Public Prosecutor Shukkur told the court that the discharge petition should not be considered without hearing out the victim, Sundara.
According to Section 15A (5) of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, a victim or his dependent shall be entitled to be heard at any proceeding under the Act in respect of bail, discharge, release, parole, conviction, or sentence of an accused. "The judge accepted the point and sent notice to the victim," Shukkur said.
On October 4, he said, he would insist on the presence of the accused during the hearing of the discharge petition.
According to the prosecution, the BJP leaders forced K Sundara out of the 2021 Assembly election in Manjeshwar because he garnered 467 votes as an independent candidate in the same constituency in 2016, when BJP's K Surendran lost to IUML's P B Abdul Razak by 89 votes.
After Sundara withdrew from the election in 2021, BJP leaders gave him a reception at his house and posted the photograph on their Facebook.
Sundara, however, told the police and media that he was threatened and given Rs 2.5 lakh and a smartphone worth Rs 8,000 to withdraw from the election. The BJP argued that he withdrew from the election on his own will.