Govt stand on sedition law betrays undemocratic

The stand taken by the Modi government in the Supreme Court that the ‘colonialist’ sedition law can remain, but with certain safeguards, betrays the authoritarian traits of the government and its intention to use the draconian law whenever it feels threatened by dissent and adverse public opinion.
K K Venugopal’s advocacies as the solicitor general of the Modi government against constitutional morality and the so-called supremacy of the Executive are well-known, but considering his eminence in the profession, it is most unlikely that these would be his personal disposition. Probably, the compulsions of his responsibilities are forcing him to go against his nature.
The position taken by Venugopal in the court is yet another manifestation of the Modi government’s colonial mentality, which places subjects in an adversarial role, rather than the source of its authority, just like the British did.
Hence it is hardly surprising that the court lamented the ‘enormous power of misuse’ of the sedition law and asked the government why it should not scrap a colonial law that was once used by the British government to oppress the freedom movements and leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
“Unfortunately, continuance of this law after 75 years… is a serious threat on functioning of institutions and individuals’ liberty,” remarked a bench, headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana. It likened the indiscriminate use of Section 124A (sedition) in the Indian Penal Code to a saw in the hands of a carpenter who cuts the entire forest instead of a tree.
Though a relic of the colonial legacy, the draconian law has been used in independent India to suppress dissent. The British used it to protect the Empire, although modern day England frowned upon its use as a threat to democracy. The colonial government justified enlarging the ambit of laws on sedition in its colonies, clearly reflecting a tendency to use sedition to suppress any kind of criticism.
The British parliament abolished sedition as an offence in 2009, reasoning that sedition and seditious and defamatory libel were arcane offences with no place in an era where freedom of expression is considered sacrosanct. But like in many other instances, India is yet to catch up on more progressive ideas.
But we are persisting with it, because it serves the purpose of authoritarian regimes that have no respect for opposing points of view. Any criticism of the government is misinterpreted as an enemy act against the state. As such, sedition law has become a dangerous tool in the hands of governments with its zero tolerance of dissent and invoking of sedition has become an obnoxious daily occurrence.
The Chief Justice pointed out how the law allowed a factionist to invoke the penal provisions to implicate the other group of people. If a particular party or people do not want to hear a voice, they will use this law to implicate others, Justice Ramana said.
In fact, the use of sedition law to clamp down on even black flag demonstrations has become a matter of routine under the present dispensation. The other day, the sedition law was invoked to book farmers in Haryana’s Sirsa, who allegedly broke the windshield of a minister’s car while staging a black flag protest. Hardly a day passes without an instance of the imperialist law being used against ordinary citizens.
Any criticism of the government is taken as an anti-national act and those who raise such criticism hauled up and put behind bars and treated like traitors who do not deserve the right to defence as envisaged in the rule of law.
The Modi government is so short-sighted in its approach on the issue that it seems to be blissfully ignorant of the risk of the law being used against its own workers when the party goes out of power. It is true that the Modi government has been mandated to successive terms. But we have had ruling establishments that remained in power for many more successive terms, and yet were banished from power forever. For, the Indian Constitution has no provision to ensure continuity of a government beyond its five-year mandate. And even if an incumbent government dares to change the statutes to make itself permanent, it will not stand the test of time. The Modi government, including its senior most law officer K K Venugopal, would do well not to gloss over this hard fact of life. (IPA Service)

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