Public servants also guilty of sedition

The Supreme Court’s examination of the case challenging the ‘sedition law’, makes it opportune to decipher this colonial statute that predates India’s Constitution, which, in its Preamble, defines the country as a “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic” that secures for its citizens ‘justice’, ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’.

Pertinently, before it sought time to review the law, the government had clarified its intent when it submitted a “draft guideline” before the court specifying that “an FIR involving Section 124A will be registered only if an officer not below the rank of superintendent of police is satisfied and records his satisfaction in writing that the alleged offense involves Section 124A as analyzed by the SC in its 2021 judgment in Vinod Dua case”.

Under the circumstances, the very definition of the law compels its appraisal.

Section 124A terms ‘sedition’ as: “Whoever 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 shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added…”

The qualification, “towards the Government established by law”, renders the Section wholly one-sided by implicitly excluding the government from its scope and assigning culpability exclusively to members of the public.

This, of course, was the purpose of the British colonialists who framed this stringent legislation to crush the freedom struggle and throttle dissent, invoking it against a galaxy of freedom-fighters from Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru to Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bhagat Singh.

Without the phrase “towards the Government established by law”, Section 124A could well have been applicable also against the government itself, or its functionaries and elected representatives, in the event of the government turning against its own people. Its continuation in present times can be adroitly leveraged by a failed government or an authoritarian dispensation in its anxiety to squash, and inhibit, dissent, subjugate opponents, sanitise media coverage, and restrain civil rights.

The law’s subjectivity raises the question whether Section 124A has legitimacy in a democracy, where the public supersedes the government, as it is the citizens that hold political power by electing leaders to represent their rights and interests in governance.

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