Fascism is on the rise in Modi’s India. The NDA ruling alliance led by the nationalist Bhartiya Janta Party is mulling over removing the controversial ‘Sedition Law’. Yes, the colonial sedition law has been used by successive governments since independence to impose its authority on the public. While every party when in power misused the rule, very few dared to question the validity of the law and even fewer had the resolve to quash it in full.
Reportedly, a day before the Supreme Court was set to gather and examine the constitutional validity of the Sedition law, the Centre informed the apex court that the provisions of the law (Section 124A) will be re-examined and reconsidered – after Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervened.
The centre noted in an affidavit filed in the SC, “In the spirit of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav (75 years of Independence) and the vision of PM Narendra Modi, the Government of India has decided to re-examine and reconsider the provisions of Section 124A, Sedition law.”
The affidavit further added, “The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India has been cognizant of various views expressed on the subject and has also periodically and in various forums expressed his clear and unequivocal views in favour of protection of civil liberties, respect for human rights and giving meaning to constitutionally cherished freedoms by the people of the country”.
Will involve the stakeholders and their viewpoint regarding the law: Union law Minister
Meanwhile, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju remarked that the government will strive for the middle ground so that country’s sovereignty and integrity are not threatened by the removal of a law that in rightful situations acts as a check on the freedom of speech of an individual who is dubbed a terrorist or poses danger to the country’s security.
Rijiju said, “PM Modi expressed his clear and unequivocal views in favour of protection of civil liberties, respect for human rights, and giving meaning to constitutional freedoms. The government will suitably take into account the views of the stakeholders & ensure that the sovereignty & integrity of the nation is preserved while re-examining & re-considering the law on sedition.
The government in concise words has informed the court not to consider the petitions challenging the colonial law and to wait for the reconsideration exercise to be conducted by the Centre. The apex court and its special bench consisting of CJI NV Ramana, Justice Suryakant and Justice Hima Kohli are expected to hear eight petitions challenging the validity of the law today. However, it needs to be seen how the bench reacts in light of the aforementioned affidavit.
PM Modi has done away with thousands of colonial laws
While the opposition, as well as the left-liberal intelligentsia of the country, cries hoarse over PM Modi and his government taking the country back—the same BJP government in its eight year’s rule so far had scrapped more than 1,500 outdated laws and over 25,000 compliance burdens in an attempt to shed the “colonial baggage”. It was during the 2014 election campaign that PM Modi promised that if the BJP came to power, for every law passed, his government would repeal 10 obsolete ones.
To give a little perspective as to how big an achievement such a level of clean-up is — a little history lesson should suffice. According to an Indian Today report, successive governments could remove just 1,301 obsolete laws which came in the way of smooth administration and economic growth in the last 70 years.
What is the Sedition law?
Before understanding the Sedition Law as described in the constitution of India, it is imperative that we trace the origins of the controversial law and how it was inserted into the Indian constitution.
Originally the Sedition laws were implemented in 17th century England with the inherent aim that only good opinions regarding the ruling disposition should come out in the open. Monarchy was prevalent at the time and kings and queens did not exactly take constructive criticism in their stride.
Thomas Macaulay, the British historian-politician drafted the law in 1837. However, Section 124A was inserted in 1870 by an amendment introduced by Sir James Stephen when it felt the need for a specific section to deal with the offence. Since then, it also made its way into the Indian Penal Code.
It defines sedition as an offence committed when “any person 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 in India”.
Sedition is a non-bailable offence. Punishment under Section 124A ranges from imprisonment up to three years to a life term, to which a fine may be added.
SC had examined the law in 1962
It’s not the first time that the Supreme Court is attempting to examine the validity of the law. In 1962, the SC decided on the constitutionality of Section 124A in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar. It upheld the constitutionality of sedition and called it the touchstone of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
The court at the time had observed, “….The provisions of the sections read as a whole, along with the explanations, make it reasonably clear that the sections aim at rendering penal only such activities as would be intended, or have a tendency, to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence.”
While the validity of the law was upheld, the apex court limited its application that it became almost impossible for the Prosecution to prove the offence of Sedition beyond a reasonable doubt. Consequently, the conviction rate in the case of sedition went down exponentially.
In recent years, the sedition law has been imposed on the likes of Sharjeel Imam who wanted to cut India’s chicken neck and isolate the rest of the North East from the country. Even then, the liberal snowflakes of the country cast aspersions over the validity of the rule. Thus, if the law is removed, a toned-down version of it needs to stay in IPC for the worst-case scenario.