Criticism and sedition

There is a growing tendency in the ruling class, irrespective of ideology or party affiliation, to frown upon and suppress dissent. The temptation is to label strong critics of the government and its policies as anti-national or guilty of sedition. Therefore, the Law Commission’s recent observation that criticizing the country or a particular aspect of it cannot be treated as ‘sedition’ is to be welcomed. The Commission has said “the charge of sedition can only be invoked in cases where the intention is to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means.” Holding the membership of or being sympathetic to a political party espousing a particular political ideology or programme, it would thus appear, is not tantamount to sedition.
The Commission has pointed out that the United Kingdom abolished the sedition law a decade ago. But Sec 124A of the Indian Penal Code – a legacy of the British raj – has been kept intact by the rulers of free India and used not often. The Commission has pointed out the anomaly of there being a provision against sedition in a country which claims to be the “largest democracy in the world.”  It has felt the necessity of redefining sedition, because “Berating the country or a particular aspect of it cannot and should be treated as sedition.” But the tendency of the rulers is to equate both the ruling party and its supreme leader (the prime minister) with the nation. Former Congress President Devakanta Barooah’s slogan during the Emergency more than four decades ago was “India is Indira, Indira is India.” The times have changed, ruling parties have changed but the mentality behind this slogan has not changed. 
Indeed, the Commission has hit the nail hard on the head when it said that if the country is not open to positive criticism, then there would be little difference between pre- and post-independent eras.  In the Commission’s words, “singing from the same book is not a benchmark of patriotism. The people should be at liberty to show their affection for their country in their own way.”  This should be understood not only by the political parties working in a democratic polity but also by the people of the country. Because, in the ultimate analysis, it is the people who have the responsibility of protecting democracy as a way of life from the ceaseless assaults of the powers-that-be who want to usurp absolute power without any accountability to the people.

Saturday, 1 September, 2018