A sessions court on Tuesday framed charges against Patidar leader Hardik Patel and his two aides in a sedition case filed against them in connection with the violence that had broken out during the community's quota agitation in August 2015, paving the way for their trial.
Sessions judge D P Mahida framed charges under IPC sections 124 (A) (sedition), 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy) and others against Hardik, Dinesh Bambhaniya and Chirag Patel, who were out on bail, in the sedition case filed by Ahmedabad crime branch, nearly three years after the police filed a charge sheet against them.
With this, the trial against the trio is likely to begin from January 29, the next date of hearing. If convicted, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment for these offences.
The city crime branch had in January 2016 filed a charge sheet against Hardik, Dinesh and Chirag claiming that they had deliberately indulged in activities which are subject to be charged under sedition and conspiracy to wage war against the government.
The high court had later dropped the charge under IPC section 121 (A) pertaining to "waging war against the state", which can attract death penalty.
Before framing the charges, the court rejected Hardik's application seeking exemption from Tuesday's hearing on the grounds that he has to attend a social function.
Since Hardik was not present in the court, the judge directed his lawyer to produce him or else an arrest warrant would be issued against him. After being informed about the court's directions, Hardik rushed to the court, following which the process of framing of charges began.
Another accused, Bambhaniya, was arrested by the police on Tuesday morning and brought to the court. The court had earlier issued an arrest warrant against him as he had remained absent despite repeated summons to remain present in the court.
Third accused Chirag Patel was present in the court.
The framing of charges in the case got delayed as one or the other accused remained absent in the court.
As per the charge sheet, Hardik and his aides, who were part of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), were allegedly involved in inciting the Patel community youths to resort to violence as part of their conspiracy to put undue pressure on the government to accept their demand of reservation to their community under the OBC category.
Inflammatory messages and rumours on part of the accused resulted in large-scale riots across Gujarat, which forced the police to impose curfew in several parts, as people resorted to stone pelting, arson and damaging public property for almost four days, the charge sheet alleged.
Fourteen people were killed in the rioting and arson in the violence.
In the charge sheet, police had also attached call detail records, call interception transcripts, CDs containing video and audio clips, forensic reports of mobile phones of Patel leaders, Hardik's speech at GMDC ground on August 25 in 2015 etc. and statement of 502 witnesses.