The People’s Union for Civil Liberties in a statement questioned the FIR lodged against former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot and the 18 MLAs supporting him, who have been charged also under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code (sedition). Conspiring to destabilize an elected government is not criminalized; however, accepting a bribe to change party allegiance can be charged under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
In its statement PUCL has sought that the FIR must mention the appropriate provisions of law.
In 2009, the UK did away with the sedition law; the oddity is that this colonial-era law should remain in force in free India and be used to stifle free speech, not just under the government of PM Modi but also under the prime ministership of Manmohan Singh, when Dr Binayak Sen was convicted under it on flimsy grounds. (For details, please see that delightful little book, The Curious Case of Binayak Sen by Dilip D’Souza)
Claire Ward, under-secretary of state in the Ministry of Justice in UK, speaking on the abolition of sedition, said in 2009: “Sedition and defamatory libel are arcane offences – from a bygone era when freedom of expression wasn’t seen as the right it is today.” In India, this offence is non-bailable and could be punished with imprisonment for life. Several poets, activists, academics, filmmakers, journalists and protesting students have been charged with it in recent years.
Some of the finest intellectuals in India – Telugu poet Varavara Rao, editor and journalist Gautam Navlakha, Dalit rights activist and academic Anand Teltumbde – are currently arrested on this ground. In 1922, Mahatma Gandhi was charged with sedition during the freedom struggle for articles he published in Young India.
It may be pertinent to mention that the Union home ministry has indicated that it is not as concerned about the illegal exchange of large sums of money as by the possible breach of procedure which allowed the tapping of phone conversations. An explanation has been sought from the state chief secretary on the phone tapping that blew the cover off the plot to destabilize the Ashok Gehlot government in the state.
Here is the complete Press Statement from PUCL, Rajasthan:
Jaipur, 18th, July 2020 Against the constant misuse of the Sedition law in the Country, Calling the Ashok Gehlot, led INC Government of Rajasthan: Donot use the Sedition law against your adversaries,
Goes against free speech Nehru called it Obnoxious and your own Party’s manifesto in 2019 said it was misused and redundant and had to go.
In the last few weeks, we have observed that some members within the ruling party of the State of Rajasthan and the opposition, are trying to destabilise a legitimate Government within the State. We have been pained that the unfolding of these distasteful events have happened in the midst of the most serious public health crisis, when the focus of all should have been on ameliorating the adverserial impact caused by the lockdowns and the collapsing economy and addressing the public health needs.
What has shocked the PUCL is the lodging of 3 FIRs, by Mahesh Joshi, Chief Whip of the
Indian National Congress party, namely, FIR number 047/2020, dated 10th July, 2020, FIR
048/2020, dated 17/07/2020 and FIR number 049/2020, at the Special Police Station (SOG),
District ATS and SOG, Jaipur, under sections, 120 (B) conspiracy and 124 (A), sedition.
Our concern is the use of the law on sedition. The PUCL since 2011, has consistently raised its voice for the repeal of the law on sedition. Thousands of signatures were collected and given to the President of India, A Petition was filed for its repeal in the Petitions committee of the Rajya Sabha and we also wrote to the standing committee and the various law commissions, apart from public action against this.
Background to its misuse
As it is widely established that Sec. 124A, IPC has been used by the past and the present
Governments to stifle any criticism of the government actions and policies. The law that has colonial origin was used against freedom fighters in the British era and presently not only against human rights defenders, civil society activists an now thousands of ordinary citizens, who are thrown in jails for this. The state, has also not spared children, who find themselves incarcerated, for long lengths of period, till some court takes cognisance. We have also seen a manifold increase in the misuse of the law since the NDA came into power. the blatant misuse to intimidate and incarcerate those who dare to exercise their democratic right of criticizing the government and its policies.
It is for these reasons that Mahatma Gandhi had called sec. 124A IPC as “the prince amongst political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”.
It maybe known that England which imposed sec. 124A, IPC on India in 1870 as part of the imperialist design, has itself abolished the crime of sedition on the ground that the law is “archaic and “offends democratic values and fundamental freedom of speech and expression” and has a “chilling effect” on free speech”.
It is important to note that Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, in 1951, called Section (124A IPC) highly objectionable and obnoxious and said that it had no place both for practical and historical reasons and emphasised that “the sooner we get rid of it the better.”
Its misuse against legislators for the first time
In Rajasthan for the first time we are seeing it being willfully misused against legislatures. Even if we go by the interpretation of the law in Kedar Nath Singh Vs the State of Bihar, 1962, SCI, AIR 955, which upheld the validity of the law, namely, sec 124 A, it has been stated that it is applicable only if disaffection results in inciting violence in society, which is not the case here.
Against the Congress party’s own Manifesto in the Lok Sabha elections of 2019
The application of the law, against its adversaries, also goes against the Congress party
own manifesto issued on 2nd April, 2020, as the party pledged to omit Section 124A of
the Indian Penal Code (that defines the offence of sedition’) & “as it has been misused
and, in any event, has become redundant” See Rules, laws and regulations section of
the Congress manifesto, 2019.
WE demand that the Congress party adhere to its commitment to the people of India and not allow the police to investigate the alleged acts, under the sedition law.
Why not Use Prevention of Corruption Act
While the Indian Penal Code does not criminalise actions of destabilsing Government, but if the Government wanted to at all criminalise such actions, as is happening in Rajasthan, and have happened earlier in Madhya Preadesh, Karnataka, then, chapter 3 of the Prevention of Corruption could have been used against receiving or attempting to receive bribes. MLAs are public servants under the Prevention of Corruption Act and they can be prosecuted for such offences.
Bring in law against destablising of Governments
It is also high time that the Indian penal code is suitably amended to bring in offences concerning destabilising a legally formed government through use of money power and other allurements. Anti defection provisions of the constitution are not adequate to deal with such situations, however, the use of the law on sedition should be stopped altogether and the repealed from the statute books at the earliest.
Kavita Srivastava (President)
Anant Bhatnagar (General Secretary)