Colonial-Era Sedition Law Must Go

India’s Supreme Court judge Justice Deepak Gupta, in his speech on freedom of expression two months back, said that criticism of an executive, bureaucracy, judiciary or even the armed forces did not amount to sedition and Indian Constitution has given every citizen, the right to dissent.

His words hold significance at a time when the government’s own stand is to make the colonial era law more stringent. In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a top Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, now a union minister, said that the law will be made so stern that it would send “shivers down the spine of anti-nationals”.

Section 124 A of the Indian Pena Code (IPC) pertaining to sedition make liable individuals or groups, who attempt to bring hatred or contempt or excite or attempt to excite dissatisfaction towards the government through words – spoken or written, signs or visible representation.

Sections 121 (pertaining to waging a war or attempting to wage a war against the state), 121A (conspiring to commit offences under 121), 122 (collecting arms and ammunition to wage a war), 123 (concealing with intent, design to wage a war) are other sections which are usually slapped against individuals charged with sedition.

The ambit of controlling free speech or dissent can go further to other sections like 153B (assertions prejudicial to national integration), 290 (public nuisance), 297 (trespass to wound religious feelings), 504 (intentional insults) of the IPC as was seen in cases recently filed against 49 celebrities in a Bihar court for writing to the PM to bring his attention to the growing incidences of mob lynching.

A recently released data by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) suggests high rate of acquittals in sedition cases at 80% for 2017. It is clear that the cases slapped against individuals were used as a tool to harass them and force them into submission, curb criticism and dissent.

The same data also points to a 46% rise in sedition cases in 2017 over the previous year. Overall, 51 cases of seditions were filed during the year with Assam (19), Haryana (13) and Himachal Pradesh (5) recording highest number of sedition cases. Around 109 cases under Sections 121, 121A, 122 and 123 were also filed.

This is despite the fact that the Supreme Court in 1962 Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar spelled out clear instructions on what constituted sedition. Though the five-judge bench ruled the provisions to be constitutional.

Since the judgement, various governments at the centre and states have used the law to curb freedom of speech and dissent, at will. Of late, university students, celebrated cinema personalities, writers, political leaders, public figures and even adivasis have been facing cases of sedition filed against them.

There are umpteen cases where criticism has led to sedition being slapped against individuals. JNU student Shehla Rashid’s twitter post criticising the Army landed her on the wrong side of the law, apart from the case related to 49 intellectuals who merely wrote a letter to the Prime Minister laying stress that intolerance in society was on the rise.

News portal scroll.in recently reported how the Jharkhand government booked over 10,000 adivasis for invoking constitution to protect their land rights. Several journalist were booked for their posts against political leaders in June this year.

In another case, First Information Reports (FIRs) were filed for criticising the Citizenship Amendment Bill. This week, former chief ministers HD Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah were booked under the sedition law for protesting Income Tax raids on their premises, in addition to the charge of obstructing a government official from discharging his duties.

Cases like these are clearly motivated and may lead to mental and physical agony. Fighting a case is arduous and expensive in India; in the cases where these charges are filed against people belonging to poor or middle class, the accused often lose their livelihoods; their passports get revoked and there is harassment at the hands of society.

This raises the question if the state should be allowed to have a sweeping discretion to exercise its powers under the law without any accountability.

Shouldn’t there be safeguards for citizens to exercise their right to express their opinion or dissent, however uncomfortable they could be to the ruling dispensation? Shouldn’t the law be made non-cognizable and bailable to ensure rule of law and justice? Above all, should accountability not be fixed on authorities if in court’s wisdom there was non-application of the mind or the exercise being arbitrary, only to harass people.

In times, when it has become easy for a person to get branded as an anti-national for his views, only courts could stop this madness by fixing the accountability of the police and the state.

It should also consider referring the matter to a larger bench to decide if the law still has a relevance in a vibrant democracy like India and if the provisions making the offence cognizable and non-bailable needs to be revoked. Cognisable offences do not mandate the police to take permission from the magistrate before making an arrest.

India’s top court has on several occasions ruled to uphold the rights of the citizens including the land mark judgements on right to privacy or decriminalising homosexuality.

While the BJP-led government has clarified its stand, Congress has also played its part in demonising the law. The protest against nuclear power plant at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu or the case against cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for drawing caricatures depicting the corruption during its tenure, are some of the incidents that point to government excesses during the United Progressive Alliance’s tenure.

Also, it was during former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s government that the law was made more draconian by making the offence cognizable and non-bailable. The original law under the British era was a non-cognizable offence.

Though in its manifesto for this year’s election, the grand old party promised to revoke Section 124A, it is unlikely to be a possibility anytime soon.

It is ironical that India still continues to follow the law when UK discontinued it a decade back. It is even more ironical that the Indian politicians who invoke Mahatma Gandhi for all political purposes have scant regard towards his belief for freedom of speech and dissent. The Mahatma had himself agitated against Section 124A after he came out of the prison, in 1922.   

To critique government policy, or satirise a politicians, or express an unpopular opinion is the right given to the citizens under Article 19(1) (a).

The law has prescribed some clearly defined exceptions to protect the sovereignty and integrity of India and its federal structure, public order, security, incitement to violence, contempt of court, public decency and morality and defamation.

The court has been intervening to ensure the legality and assess the application of mind in such exercises, but a higher intervention is now required.

Unless that happens, different governments will continue to enforce the law arbitrarily at different points in time.

Justice Gupta, during his speech also said that “New thinkers are born when they disagree with well-accepted norms of the society” and “If everybody follows the well-trodden path, no new paths will be created and no new vistas of the mind will be found.”

Is the Supreme Court listening to one of its own? Politicians may call it a judicial overreach, to protect their turf, but the rights of the citizens are supreme.

Pragya Apologises Twice, Says Didn’t Call Godse Patriot

BJP MP from Bhopal, Pragya Singh Thakur on Friday reiterated in Lok Sabha that she had not called Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse a “deshbhakt” and expressed apology if someone had been hurt by her remarks.

Pragya, who is known for making controversial remarks, apologised for the second time in Lower House after the opposition members expressed dissatisfaction with her statement made earlier in the day.

“On November 27 during the discussion on SPG bill, I did not call Nathuram Godse ‘deshbhakt’, did not take his name. Even then if someone has been hurt, I express regret and seek an apology,” she said earlier in the day.

However, Thakur had to be checked by Speaker amid interruptions by opposition members after she started speaking.

“I have tolerated many atrocities given by enemies…” she said in the beginning.

The second apology from Thakur came after the meeting of leaders in the House.

In her apology in the House earlier, Pragya also raked up of being called terrorist by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

Gandhi had on November 27 tweeted, “Terrorist Pragya calls terrorist Godse, a patriot. A sad day, in the history of India’s Parliament.”

“If any of my remarks in the House have hurt anyone, I express regret for that and apologise. But I also want to say that my words in the House have been twisted and presented wrongly. My remarks had different context which were wrongly presented. The way my words have been twisted, it is condemnable,” she said.

“I respect the service done by Mahatma Gandhi for the country. I want to tell the House that a member has publicly called me a terrorist. Despite the conspiracies of the then government against me, no charge has been proved against me. Without charge having been proved, calling me a terrorist is against the law. Calling me terrorist without charges having been proved in an attempt to insult me as a woman, as a “sanyasi”, as an MP, is an attack on my dignity,” she said.

She alleged the then government had hatched conspiracy to torture her mentally.The remarks had led to a ruckus in the House with opposition members strongly protesting her remarks.

Thakur had made the remarks, which were now expunged when DMK member was speaking on SPG amendment bill in Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

(ANI)

HD Kumaraswamy And Siddaramaiah

Sedition Cases Against HDK, Sidda For Stalling I-T Raids

Cases have been filed against former Karnataka chief ministers HD Kumaraswamy and Siddaramaiah, former ministers G Parmeshwara and DK Shivakumar, and ex-Bengaluru city police commissioner Suneel Kumar under several Sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including Sedition charge, for allegedly obstructing I-T officials from discharging their duties.

Acting on a private complaint, a local court directed the Bengaluru police to file the FIR.

Commercial Street police station has filed the case under several Sections of the IPC including 217, 176, 121, 177, 506, 153A, 503, 414, 149, 143, 505(2), 124A, 353, 409, 350, 405, 417, 120(A), 416, 171C, 119, 141, 142 and 499.

Mallikarjuna, a social activist from Tumkur had alleged that on March 27, the then chief minister H D Kumaraswamy had issued statements to the media that he had received information that I-T officials were preparing to raid houses belonging to some JD(S) leaders.

On March 28 they held a protest opposing the raids on JD(S) and Congress leaders. This amounts to obstructing I-T officials from discharging their duties and this also led to major traffic snarls in the area. The police who were present at the spot did not do anything to stop the protest, the activist stated.

(ANI)

Q2 GDP Slumps To 4.5%, Core Output Contracts To 5.8%

The economic growth slowed to 4.5 per cent in the July to September quarter from 7.1 per cent in the corresponding period of last year, even as eight core industries recorded 5.8 per cent decline in October,the government data showed on Friday.

The economy had a weak performance last quarter with the GDP growth rate dropping to 5 per cent. The slowdown in Q2 FY20 was largely due to a sharp dip in the manufacturing sector and agriculture output, said the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation in a statement.

The weak GDP growth in Q2 was also caused by grim industrial output data which contracted 0.4 per cent during the quarter against 3 per cent expansion in the preceding three months.

Heavy rainfall in August and September along with a delayed withdrawal of the monsoon constrained activities in the mining and construction sectors.

“The combined index of eight core industries stood at 127 in October 2019 which declined by 5.8 per cent as compared to the index of October 2018. Its cumulative growth during April to October 2019-20 was 0.2 per cent,” according to an official statement by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

The index of eight core industries comprises coal, crude oil, natural gas, steel, cement, electricity, fertiliser, and refinery products. The index makes up 40.27 per cent of the Index of Industrial Production (IIP).

Coal production declined by 17.6 per cent in October versus a de-growth of 20.5 per cent. The index was also dragged down by electricity which reported a plunge of 12.4 per cent compared to a plunge of 3.7 per cent in September.

Crude oil production declined by 5.1 per cent in October 2019 over the same month of last year. Cement production declined by 7.7 per cent but fertiliser production increased by 11.8 per cent.

Petroleum refinery production too increased marginally by 0.4 per cent.

(ANI)

Gotabaya Rajapaksa Visits India

Visiting Sri Lankan Prez Calls For Better Ties With India

Asserting that India and Sri Lanka have a “long-standing friendship”, the island nation President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday said that he will take the bilateral relationship to a “higher level”.

In his first comment to media after arriving here on Thursday, the newly elected president said that Colombo and New Delhi need to “work together” for economic development and security of their people.

“It is my first overseas visit after assuming duties as a president of Sri Lanka. I want to express my gratitude to the India government to the President and the Prime Minister,” Rajapaksa said.

“My expectations are very high. As my tenure as the president. I want to take the relationship between Sri Lanka and India to a higher level. We have of course long-standing friendship–historically culturally and politically. We need to work together for economic development and security of our people,” he added.

Upon his arrival at Rashtrapati Bhawan, Rajapaksa was received by President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and was accorded a ceremonial reception

Earlier in the day, Rajapaksa met External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.

Prime Minister Modi and Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will hold talks at Hyderabad House later here today.

Both leaders are likely to discuss areas of cooperation and ways to strengthen the existing bilateral relations between the two countries. After holding talks at the Hyderabad House, both leaders will issue a joint statement.

The Sri Lankan President will later call on President Kovind.

The Sri Lankan President is leading a high-level delegation which includes Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha and Treasury Secretary S R Attygalle.

He is slated to attend a programme in the city on Saturday. Later in the evening, Rajapaksa will emplane for Sri Lanka.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), in a statement, had said that the Indian government is ready to work very closely with the new government in Sri Lanka and expressed hope that it will fulfil the aspirations of the Tamil community living in the island nation.

70-year-old Rajapaksa had defeated United National Party (UNP) candidate Sajith Premadasa by more than 13 lakh votes in the recently-concluded presidential elections in Sri Lanka. He is the second member of the Rajapaksa family to become the president. (ANI)

CM Uddhav Halts Work At Aarey Metro Shed Project

An order to stop the work on the Aarey metro car shed project was passed by newly sworn-in Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Friday.

“I have ordered to stop the work of Aarey metro car shed project today. Metro work will not stop but till next decision, not a single leaf of Aarey will be cut,” he said at a press conference.

Back in October, the felling of trees in the Aarey Colony had drawn a wedge between former allies BJP and Shiv Sena, with then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis pushing for the project and the Thackeray-led party coming out in protest of the proposed car shed.

“It is going on in my mind, what I can do for the city,” Thackery said at his presser today, adding that he was the first chief minister who was born in Mumbai.

Over 2,185 trees were razed in the area in concurrence with the Bombay High Court’s order which had upheld the permission granted to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) tree authority to cut down trees to make a metro-car shed.

In pursuance of the widespread protests which erupted after the felling of trees in Mumbai’s Aarey colony, the apex court late in October ordered the Maharashtra government not to axe any more trees and maintain the status quo till further orders. (ANI)

‘Kids Can’t Go To School On Children’s Day Due To Smog’

Ajay Dev Singh, 40, a parenting counsellor based in New Delhi, is at pains to see his two young daughters suffering from breathing disorders and sore eyes

The other day I overheard my four-year old speaking with her friend in our gated community playground (the schools had been closed after Delhi government orders) and guess what they were talking about? Yes, pollution! What have we done? We have created an atmosphere where four-year olds discuss ‘pollution’ and 16-year-olds (Greta Thunberg) talk about ‘solution’ (for climate change). What are we grown-ups doing?

Well, many of us are trying to live sustainable lives and doing everything not to harm the environment, right from reducing plastic usage, segregating waste, recycling water etc. But on the other side the majority of us don’t care about the condition of the city they live in.

Despite so many news channels and newspapers talking about reducing the usage of crackers, there were many parents in our neighbourhood who were encouraging their children to burst crackers late on Diwali night.

I live in Dwarka which is almost on the outskirts of Delhi and I wonder what the condition of the children in the heart of the polluted city must be. It was difficult to see my four- & six-year old girls suffering because of the pollution.

Parali (stubble) burning in Punjab isn’t something we as residents living in Delhi- NCR can control, but not burning crackers is something that is our decision. It has been over a month now and both my daughters continue to have running noses, itchy eyes and laboured breathing.

My six-year old knows what’s going on and as part of a school project on letter-writing, she wrote a letter to the Delhi CM about the high levels of pollution. And by that I don’t mean setting up an oxygen bar where people can breathe clean air for some time. I mean doing something where the whole city feels like one big oxygen bar. This is the capital city of our country; what signals are we sending to the rest of the world? Seeing kids play their innocent games wearing masks feels like I am living in a dystopian and weird setting.

I was just thinking about how when we were kids in the 80s-90s, people would go to see new gadgets purchased by a particular family. Often it would be new TV set, and now perhaps we go to the homes of people who have bought air purifiers. Frankly, the kids are tired of sitting inside and even then we have to keep the windows closed many a times. Is this the price we have to pay to live?

And what about kids who live on the streets, who don’t even have homes where they can find refuge from the toxic air for some time? What about children who have to live on picking rags? My young kids ask about how other kids and animals who live on the streets are faring in such a condition. I came to Delhi to do my graduation in the late 90s and lived here till 2010 after which I shifted to Mumbai. Work brought us back to Delhi again in 2014.

Frankly, till 2010 the condition wasn’t so bad and I think it is because of the burning of parali by farmers that is wreaking such a havoc on Delhi air. I have read in-depth about this matter and I got to know that earlier the farmers would decompose the parali in water and that would not pollute the air but it would reduce the groundwater level drastically and summers would be unbearable because of this.

So it is like being caught between the devil and the deep sea. Both Centre and state governments need to look deeply into the matter and find a solution urgently otherwise our kids will continue to suffer. Our world be bereft of their laughter if they are constantly cooped up in their homes and don’t get to play. Kids can only ask for change, but it is only the grown-ups who have the power to bring about change.

I received a letter from the school principal in which she mentioned that she was missing the children for whom the whole school had been decorated for Children’s Day and a film festival had been organized. That is sad, woefully sad. Our children are losing out on beauty and art and the joy of growing up. Soon we will have more days when the children won’t be able to go to school.

Mahabharata In Maharashtra

Associated with Realpolitik that sets pragmatism over ideological goals, the phrase “politics is the art of the possible” entails that “it’s not about what’s right, or what’s best. It’s about the attainable.”

Nineteenth-century German politician Otto Von Bismarck who coined it couldn’t have foreseen events in present-day India, or in Maharashtra. He would have been flummoxed by the way even Realpolitik is played.

It is difficult to say who won in Maharashtra that saw a government ushered in by subterfuge that had to quit within three days. Besides greed for power that comes natural to all contenders, this happened because of abdication by institutions established under the Constitution.

To begin with, the President signed a proclamation revoking the governor’s rule at an unearthly 5.43 AM. The Union Cabinet did not meet to recommend it. (This was justified by the Law Minister, of all days, on the Constitution Day).

Next, the state governor, obviously on New Delhi’s diktats, hastily swore in by 8 AM Devendra Fadnavis and as his new deputy, Ajit Pawar. He did not verify the claim of majority support from among the newly-elected legislators. Even after the dust settles, his conduct shall be debated.

The Supreme Court heard the matter on a Sunday morning, an official holiday. But three honourable judges reserved their ruling when they could have issued clear directions for floor test in the legislature citing well-established precedents. That allowed contenders and their cronies — carpetbaggers all – to abuse all democratic norms in activities from swank hotels and resorts to the streets.

The apex court finally controlled the damage with clear-cut rulings, but after 48 hours. It not only gave the Fadnavis government just one day to get the assembly’s confidence vote but also stipulated that the proceedings should be telecast ‘live’, conducted by a pro-tem Speaker and held by an open ballot.

Without dwelling on the background details that are too many, problems for the BJP ruling at the Centre, always resorting to the jugular to extend sway across the country, began with falling short of majority in both states that went to the polls last month.

It roped in a rival party in Haryana co-opting its chief as the deputy chief minister. But in Maharashtra it reneged on a fifty-fifty pre-poll pact with its oldest ally Shiv Sena (at least Sena insists so).

Despite winning half of the seats than the BJP, Sena, fearing future marginalization from a marauding BJP in the only state it has political base, insisted on the chief minister’s post.

After a month’s stand-off, it broke with the BJP and aligned with old rivals, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress. The latter prevaricated, unwilling to align with an untrustworthy ideological adversary when NCP chief Sharad Pawar emerged as the catalyst. To his credit, he insisted, and secured, Sena’s formal parting from the BJP-led ruling alliance.

The BJP prime movers, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah grabbed the weakest link in the Opposition chain – Ajit Pawar, NCP chief’s controversial nephew. He succumbed, to escape probe for graft charges worth billions instituted by the Fadnavis Government-1.

Having got him, the short-lived Fadnavis-2 withdrew nine of the 20 charges. But the next day, Ajit quit, under severe family pressures. Stripped of perceived majority minus Ajit, in no position to face the floor-test, Fadnavis resigned, with egg on his and the BJP’s face.  

Now, some noteworthy points on the way polity functions. Split verdicts in an election have been creating conditions when political mores and constitutional norms are wrecked. Money flows — the going price of a Maharashtra legislator this time was, reportedly, a staggering Rupees 50 crores.

The “Aya Ram, Gaya Ram” political culture of trading in legislators that goes back to the 1960s has burgeoned. People have got used to seeing those they vote changing party labels and loyalty for power and pelf. Come to think of it, all four parties were brazen and shameless, but BJP behaved with maximum impunity.

No popular movement has been unleashed to protest this trend. India’s middle class scoffs at corruption in general, but is selective on political corruption. The venerable Anna Hazare, the anti-graft movement hero six years ago, hailing from the same Maharashtra, is today silent and ignored.

Maharashtra’s changed political line-up has blurred the secular-communal divide. An aggressive “Hindu nationalist” Shiv Sena is being embraced by the NCP, the Congress, the Samajwadi and others. Keen to beat back a marauding BJP, the secularists (this term is getting blurred) have embraced Sena despite its record of regional chauvinism and its avowed “Hindu nationalism” that is more aggressive and regressive than the BJP.

The BJP-Sena split has raised new worries in influential quarters. The caste factor has always kept a pluralist Hindu society divided. Lord Meghnad Desai, the British peer and an avid Modi fan, laments: “If two Hindu nationalist parties cannot agree on a power-sharing coalition because of the Brahmin/non-Brahmin difference, what hope is there for a Hindu Rashtra?”

The Maharashtra events are a resounding slap on the faces of Modi and Shah. Their template of being the modern-day Chanakyas has taken a hit. Their ‘nationalism’ platform aggressively selling their Kashmir initiative and labeling its critics ‘traitors’ did not bring enough seats. Local issues and regional parties mattered. Besides unemployment, farm distress is a serious issue in Maharashtra.  

The Pawars are a dynasty, the reason why Ajit the rebel, turned prodigal. Now Pawar sups with another dynasty, the Thackerays and the oldest dynasty of them all, the Congress’ Gandhis.

This is Pawar’s moment, thanks to the BJP’s Maharashtra folly. India’s increasingly one-sided political discourse has been seriously breached with Pawar’s emergence. Although ageing and ailing, he has a stature around whom a leader-less Opposition, particularly the Congress, can build its future campaign against the BJP. That is, provided they sink their egos — a big ‘if’ in Indian context.

Road for this has been paved in Maharashtra, the second-largest state that elects 48 Lok Sabha members, next only to Uttar Pradesh. Equally important is the fact that the state, despite numerous flaws, remains India’s richest and its capital is also India’s principal financial/ commercial hub. Losing Maharashtra is the biggest blow the BJP has suffered since 2014.

Maharashtra has a chief minister in Uddhav Thackeray, 59, who has had zero experience in governance. He has remained under the shadow of his father, late Balasaheb, who founded and built a party with a chauvinistic agenda and resorts to strong-arm tactics. India Inc. couldn’t be happy by this development fearing political instability and the resultant damage to an already slowdown-hit economy. 

The new combine will have to battle and rein in their several inner contradictions and with Pawar playing the ‘Pitamaha’, ensure that they do not overwhelm governance.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Uddhav Thackeray Takes Oath As Maharashtra CM

Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray was on Thursday sworn-in as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra by Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari at a grand ceremony held at the Shivaji Park.

Uddhav is the first member from Thackeray family to become the Chief Minister and the third Shiv Sena leader to hold the top post after Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane. He is leading a government of the Maha Vikas Aghadi, an alliance of Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and Congress.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath, Kapil Sibbal, KTS Tulsi, MK Stalin, SK Shinde, Sanjay Raut, and Prithviraj Chavan, MNS leader and Uddhav’s cousin Raj Thackeray were among several leaders who attended the ceremony.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday congratulated Uddhav Thackeray on taking oath as Maharashtra Chief Minister.

In a tweet, Prime Minister Modi said: “Congratulations to Uddhav Thackeray Ji on taking oath as the CM of Maharashtra. I am confident he will work diligently for the bright future of Maharashtra. @OfficeofUT.”

Prime Minister Modi also tagged the Office of Uddhav Thackeray in his tweet.

On Tuesday, Thackeray had been unanimously elected as the leader of the tri-party alliance — Maha Vikas Aghadi.

(ANI)