SEDITION

Congress crisis in Rajasthan: 

#GS2#polity

What is the issue? 

The Ashok Gehlot vs Sachin Pilot tussle in Rajasthan has become some sort of a cliche in Congress infighting. But the latest showdown between the Chief Minister and his Number two is qualitatively different.

Both the timing and the framing are significant. It comes when the pandemic and the lockdown have forced parties to put most political activity on temporary snooze. And, unlike previous times, it doesn’t have an external trigger.

 

Indeed, it has more to do with Congres's internal dynamics. That explains why this time many Congress leaders feel it is time the leadership – read Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi – not kick this can down the road as they have been doing since the party won Jaipur in December 2018. At least two MPs even articulated their concerns in public.

This is also different from the tumult which the party went through in Madhya Pradesh just four months ago that saw jyothiraditya scindja and bring the BJP back to power in Bhopal.

 

 The pilot has the backing of an influential caste (Gujjar) which Scindia lacked. The pilot has also shown a willingness to endure the rough and tumble of politics. He did not shy away from taking up the responsibility of helping the state unit when it was offered. Scindia, on the other hand, was never keen to get his feet wet.

Unlike Scindia who turned down Deputy Chief Ministership, Pilot has fought hard for the post he secured, displaying political hunger and ambition along with an awareness of the need to pay his dues.

This time, therefore, the lines are drawn harder than ever. Pilot, sources close to him said, is clear he will not take the SOG to notice lying down. He believes it cannot be “business as usual,” and the party leadership needs to listen to him.

 

Rajasthan police’s Special Operations Group (SOG)  charged two persons with sedition and criminal conspiracy for trying to topple the state government by allegedly indulging in horse-trading of MLAs. The police also sent a notice to government chief whip Mahesh Joshi to record his statement.

 

About Sedition Law

  • Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, also popularly known as The Sedition Law, was introduced in the year 1870 by the Britishers. It was originally drafted by Thomas Macaulay. It was not a part of IPC in the 1860s.
  • Section 124A of the IPC states, “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added”.
  • The law was first used to prosecute Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1897. That case led to Section 124A of the IPC is amended, to add the words ‘hatred’ and ‘contempt’.
  • The law has been notorious for being used against the growing voices of freedom fighters. Mahatma Gandhi was charged under the same law in the year 1922.
  • After independence, the law was retained in the IPC, although further explanations have been added to it.
  • Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India which guarantees the right to free speech and expression absolutely allows for criticism of the government. Given that the word sedition by itself does not appear in Article 19(2), or in the reasonable restrictions provision, the court could uphold 124A only if it was brought within the ambit of “public order”.

 

Famous cases on Sedition

  • In the Constituent Assembly, some tried to include sedition as a ground for restricting free speech. However, this was opposed for fear that it would be used to crush political dissent.
  • The Supreme Court highlighted the debates of freedom of speech in 1950 in its decisions in Brij Bhushan v the State of Delhi and Romesh Thappar v. the State of Madras. These decisions prompted the First Constitution Amendment, where Article 19(2) was rewritten to replace “undermining the security of the State” with “in the interest of public order”.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru criticized the Sedition law after the first amendment.
  • In 1962, in Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of sedition, but limited its application to only ‘acts involving intention or tendency to create a disturbance of law or incitement to violence’.
  • In 1995, the Supreme Court, in Balwant Singh v State of Punjab, acquitted persons from charges of sedition for shouting slogans such as “Khalistan Zindabaad” after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. However, the Court held that mere sloganeering which evoked no public response did not amount to sedition.
  • In the 1950s, Ram Manohar Lohia was prosecuted for encouraging citizens not to pay their taxes. The state argued that encouragement to not to pay taxes could result in revolution. However, the court rejected this argument and said that the state must establish a proximate or imminent connection between speech and violence, and not merely rely upon hypothetical possibilities.
  • In Shreya Singhal's judgment (2013), the supreme court gave a clear difference between advocacy and incitement. The court held that three concepts are fundamental to understanding the scope of free speech: Discussion, Advocacy, and Incitement. Freedom of speech can be restricted only when discussion or advocacy reaches the level of incitement.

 

Why Sedition law is necessary?

  • Criticism against the law of sedition is that its misuse is rampant and thus must be done away with. However, there exist instances where its use is necessary. The effect of any individual’s seditious activity has serious implications, which is why the offense is categorized in ‘Offences Against the State’ and not in Chapter XIII of the IPC pertaining to ‘Offences Against Public Tranquility’.
  • Moreover, the Supreme Court has repeatedly observed that the mere possibility of misuse of a provision does not invalidate the legislation.
  • Section 124-A protects constructive criticism of government measures made without any attempt to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection towards the government.
  • There are multiple flashpoints/mob trying to break India and there are a lot of ‘breaking forces’ which are kicking and which are receiving active support from within and outside India.
  • The argument that Section 124 A is borrowed from Britishers, cannot be used to eliminate it rather than whether is it relevant at this particular point of time is more important.
  • Section 124 A has been abolished from other countries of the world except India is no reason to reject this law without deliberate on what is the relevance of this law in Indian circumstances.
  • The freedom speech and expression which has been guaranteed under Article 19 (1) A but at the same time, there are limitations counted in article 19 (2) hence Article 19 (1) A and Article 19 (2) should be read all together.

 

Flaws in Indian Juridical system regarding Sedition

  • There are certain faith systems that clearly reject the sanctity of the Vedas and still, they’re treated as religions.
  • Hence, Critical analysis of all communities should be allowed as there can never be an academic discussion with respect to faith systems in India at all.
  • If a book is published criticizing a particular faith, then not only there is a right of the author but there is the right of the reader to study the particular piece of information as well.
  • However, the right of Academia to think and the right of the public to receive information is lost.
  • If a certain historical aspect of a historical figure is being discussed, if uncomfortable truth regarding that historical figure is found, would that amount to spreading hatred? what is the line that the Indian constitution draws between speaking the truth and spreading hatred? These questions need to be addressed.
  • One can genuinely disagree with a certain religion without necessarily being hateful of a certain person and can have the right to speak that this particular idea could cause public disharmony although that’s not equivalent to hatred towards religion. This type of distinction, unfortunately, is missed in India.
  • If there is an allegation against anyone but unless it is proved beyond a reasonable doubt the Indian judicial system is adverse as one has to prove it by evidence and by the procedure.

 

Suggestions

  • It might instead be useful to consider at least procedural safeguards and systemic reforms than to repeal the law, that ensures these laws are not misused in a way that makes a joke of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • All speech-related offenses should be made bailable offenses; this would lessen the harmful impact of using arrest and custody as a way of harassing anyone exercising their rights under Article 19(1)(a).
  • The offenses should be made non-cognizable so that there is at least a judicial check on the police acting on the basis of politically-motivated complaints.
  • In the case of offenses under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc.) and 295A of the Indian Penal Code, it is mandatory under Section 196(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure to obtain prior sanction of the government before taking cognizance of the offenses. This needs to be extended to the offense of sedition under Section 124A.
  • In the case of hate speech, it is important to raise the burden of proof on those who claim that their sentiments have been hurt, rather than accept their claim at face value.
  • It is crucial that courts begin to take action against those who bring malicious complaints against speech acts.

 

Source: Indian express

 

 

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