Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
The circular issued by Maharashtra’s BJP government late last month has raised concern in liberal, informed sections all over India regarding its potential misuse by the police and administration to crush dissent and the perfectly valid democratic right of free speech.
The circular carries guidelines for the police before invoking sedition charges under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code. Successive governments at Centre and in the states have misused IPC over the decades to silence the opposition illegally and unconstitutionally.
Essentially, even on a sympathetic reading of the circular, which empowers the police to act against people dissatisfied with government and officialdom, by booking them for sedition, is grossly violative of Article 19 (I) (A) of the Constitution of India. At any given time most people are dissatisfied with government and bureaucracy. So should all of them be jailed?
Just come to think of it: Nearly seven decades after getting our independence from the British, we still continue to have the hated repressive law made by the British to crush the will of Indians to freedom. This law, made in the second half of the 19th century, and condemned by Mahatma Gandhi as an instrument of oppression, should have been scrapped decades ago.
The Fadnavis government has explained that the circular is merely an adaptation of a submission of the recent Congress-NCP government of Maharashtra before the Bombay High Court. That shows the true colours of all governments, to whatever party they may belong. Dissent is the soul of democracy.
The circular says, inter alia, to attract sedition charges, “words, signs or representations must bring the Government (Central or State) into hatred or contempt, or must cause, or attempt to cause disaffection, enmity or disloyalty to Government…”
Mark the language of the British raj. In all democracies, people are expected to be loyal to the nation, not government of the day, much less to salaried government servants.
Under the vague clauses of this circular (which remain vague even after clarifications from Maharashtra government) sedition charges will be brought against somebody speaking against not only ministers and other grandies, but government servants “shown as representatives of governments.” Whose representatives the babus can be shown as, except the government’s? This is the situation even after the so-called clarification.
Even the Congress Party, whose government had presented a draft containing much of the current circular to the Bombay High Court in 2012, now says the circular is liable to be misused against the opposition. Politicians are a strange lot. They criticise these draconian laws when they are in opposition, but support them when they are in power.
My particular objection is to the language of the circular, which shows the arrogance of the British raj, demanding “loyalty to the government”. In a democracy people are loyal to the nation, even nation state, not the government of the day. The following story of a spat between the BBC and British government illustrates the point.
During the war between Britain and Argentina over Faulklands, the BBC coverage consistently held on to an objective, non-partisan position. To that the British government responded by alleging that the BBC was working against Britain’s interests. The BBC retorted that it was concerned about the national interest, not the interests of the government of the time.
This shows the Indian democratic position vis-à-vis the circular also. Finally, let us hurry up and bury the laws which were made to keep us perpetually enslaved. Such laws must go the way the British raj went, and must never be allowed to return under any pretext.