Retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju has said that the charge-sheets against former student union leaders for allegedly holding an “anti-national” event at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in February 2016, are “illegal”.
He asserted that the charge-sheets deserve to be rejected or quashed.
On Monday, Delhi police had filed 1,200 page charge-sheet at Patiala House Court against former JNU Students’ Union leaders including Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya besides seven students from Jammu and Kashmir, Aquib Hussain, Mujeeb Hussain, Muneeb Hussain, Umar Gul, Rayeea Rassol, Bashir Bhat and Basharat.
All of them have been accused of organising an event on the campus against the hanging of Parliament-attack mastermind Afzal Guru. Their arrests back then had triggered a huge controversy with the opposition slamming the police for allegedly working at the behest of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“The Delhi police has charge sheeted Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and others for shouting, or inciting a mob to shout, anti-India slogans in a function in JNU in 2016,” Katju, also former Press Council of India’s chairman, wrote in a Facebook post, wondering “But are these crimes?”
“I am of the opinion that they are not, and they are protected by the freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution,” he remarked.
Referring to the landmark 1969 Brandenburg vs Ohio case, the former judge wrote about the observation of US Supreme Court, “The Constitutional guarantee of free speech does not permit the state to forbid or proscribe the advocacy of the use of force or law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action, and is likely to produce such action.”
Asserting that “the Indian Supreme Court has followed the US top court’s decision in three of its own decisions viz Government of Andhra Pradesh vs P. Laxmi Devi, Arup Bhuyan vs State of Assam and Sri Indra Das vs State of Assam”, he further maintained: “Hence it has become the law of the land in India too.”
“Surely shouting, or inciting to shout, anti-India slogans will not result in imminent or immediate lawless action,” he remarked.
Reacting to the filing of charge-sheet three years after the alleged incident, there are many who have questioned its timing and termed it a “politically motivated” move of the BJP ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
“Kanhaiya Kumar is charged with sedition after three years and just three months before general elections! A law which was enacted by the British to jail freedom fighters is now used by the Indian state as a political weapon to quash dissent!” senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai posted on Twitter.
A founding editor of The Wire, Siddharth Varadarajan, said: “This is so atrocious, the wanton disregard for the Supreme Court and five decades of settled law. Slogans, even if Kanhaiya shouted them (which he did not) do not amount to sedition unless there is violence or the imminent threat of it.”
Referring to the Modi cabinet’s approval of 10 percent reservation for economically backward among general categories, another journalist Saba Naqvi said: “Quotas and #KanhaiyaKumar...the list of election gambits by BJP gets pathetic.”
The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union has billed the submission of the charge sheet as “a clear case of vendetta and well-planned instruction from the Prime Minister's office to whip up a frenzy and browbeat those who have emerged as critical voices to the Prime Minister.”
Former Union Minister P. Chidambaram has termed the charges “absurd.”
“If it takes three years and 1200 pages to make out a charge of sedition (based on a public speech), that alone exposes the motive of the government,” he said in a series of tweets, asking , “How many in the investigating team have read and understood section 124 A of the IPC and the case law on the section?”
There must be a serious debate if a provision like section 124 A has a place in the laws of a democratic republic, Chidambaram added.
“Modi government has again used the police to distract attention from the issues that matter - Jobs, agrarian distress and economic mismanagement,” said Congress party on Twitter.