By D Raja
The recent Supreme Court decision in quashing sedition charges against Vinod Dua for his alleged criticism of the Prime Minister constitutes a hastening development for our country. Since 2014 onwards, sedition cases are slapped on people at an accelerated pace. 160 per cent rise in such cases is indicative of the Modi regime’s repressive approach to stifle dissent, criticism and to suppress people’s legitimate and constitutionally guaranteed right to protest.
No wonder that as per the assessment of Freedom House’s Freedom in the World’ report India has fallen from the status of a free country to a partially free country. One of the principal reasons behind India’s fallen status is rise in sedition cases against people voicing criticism and registering protest against the Government. Eminent academics, advocates, socio-political activists and students are being slapped with sedition and other serious charges.
Modi regime and BJP regimes in several States of India have been invoking sedition charges since 2014 recurrently and ruthlessly in complete disregard of the Supreme Court orders limiting the scope of sedition and enjoining that seditious activities or speech should involve incitement to violence and public disorder. While sedition charges were quashed by the Supreme Court against someone who said Khalistan Jindabad, the Modi regime is arresting people on sedition charges for simply reciting some slogans.
Prime Minister of India ridiculed people agitating against the Government by describing them as Andolanjeevis. This constitutes an affront to Dr. B R Ambedkar in whose slogan “Educate, Agitate and Organise,” agitation acquires centrality and has became one of the key factors behind public reasoning for mobilizing masses for social and economic justice. Several agitationists have been languishing in jails because the sedition provisions of the Indian Penal Code have been used to book them.
Such frequent and wilful application of sedition charges by BJP regimes on a scale never seen in the history of independent India constitutes a grim reminder of British rule which used sedition against anybody who criticized the British policies. Stalwarts among our freedom fighters such as Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhagat Singh and countless Communists were convicted for their so called seditious speeches and activities.
Lokmanya Tilak was convicted for sedition just because a paper was found in his possession and on it the name of two books on explosive substances was written. Tilak wrote the names of those two books to study and understand the draconian Explosive Act of the British regime and write an article on it for his newspaper The Kesari. But based on that paper he was charged with sedition and manufacture of bombs and eventually he was convicted.
Now in independent India similar flimsy instances are used to slap sedition charges on scores of people. The way sedition is used against activists, protestors and students, Dalit and Tribal Activists and people of minority communities suggests that Modi regime is equal in importance to the British rulers at least in terms of arresting people and putting them behind bars for their so called seditious activities expressed through their written and spoken words and practical action.
The Government of India under Prime Minister Modi is replicating actions of British rulers in ruthlessly employing sedition charges against freedom fighters. But the freedom struggle intensified in spite of brutal application of sedition law on the people of India. Such replay of history on the dictation of Modi regime when the country has started celebrating seventy fifth anniversary of independence does not augur well for our Republic. People would follow more determinedly the letter and spirit of Ambedkar’s electrifying slogan “Educate, Agitate and Organise” notwithstanding the aggressive application of sedition charges to silence them.
India, apart from being downgraded from a free country to a partially free country has been described as an elected autocracy primarily because, among others, of callous and calculated use of sedition law on the critics of Modi rule.
It is for these reasons that colonial laws like sedition often used to stifle democracy should be removed from the Statutes. In Britain such laws have been abolished. It is ironic that India is continuing with such laws which were put in the Indian Penal Code by the British authorities when they were ruling India. The Constituent Assembly did not agree to include sedition anywhere in the Constitution because of the vehement opposition from the members of the Assembly. They felt that it would curtail freedom of speech and expression. It is unfortunate that the legislative intent of the Constituent Assembly not to have the provision of sedition in the Constitution got somehow negated by retaining it in the Indian Penal Code.
I had introduced a Private Member’s Bill in 2011 in the Rajya Sabha to abolish sedition law on the ground that it is used to curb freedom of expression and speech. I had stated that there are enough laws in our country to deal with external and internal threats to India and so there is no need to continue with the sedition law. In 2018 the Law Commission of India prepared a Consultation Paper on Sedition and referred to my Bill.
It is high time that India should completely dispense with the sedition law which is a relic of the colonial era. Mahatma Gandhi who was convicted for sedition in 1922 was in favour of its abolition. Now that the Supreme Court has quashed sedition charges unfairly slapped on a journalist, we as the citizens of Indian Republic should demand the quashing of Sedition Law in its entirety to fulfill the vision of the Constituent Assembly which rejected sedition while framing the Constitution for our country. Let us adhere to the Constitution of India and abolish the sedition law. In doing so we would uphold constitutional morality as advocated by Ambedkar. (IPA Service)
The writer is, General Secretary, CPI.