If symbols of British Raj are anathema to Modi govt, why doesn’t it heed calls to nix sedition law?
If Modi govt did away with Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate just because it was built by the British, it ought to remove IPC’s sedition law which was enacted by them to subdue the freedom struggle
Nothing will change and nobody in the Modi regime will act on his recommendation, but Justice (retd.) Rohinton Nariman is an optimist and he has given a call to junk the colonial sedition law. For him, the “single-most important and cherished human right” is the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a), which is routinely trampled upon by the application of the sedition law.
That being said, Justice Nariman is one of them who when in the “inside” looked askance, but when in the “outside” looks inside and sees the flaws, warts and all. The entire time he was in the apex court, he did not press for the removal of the sedition law, building a consensus on the need to rid India of a British Raj-era law that keeps gnawing at Indian democracy’s innards, but now he wants it gone.
The problem is those who want the British era sedition law gone for good are barking up the wrong tree. The Narendra Modi government’s urgency is only to transform the central vista inside the Indian’s head, rid it of whatever remains and reminds of the Congress-led freedom struggle.
The BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, reportedly was partial to British rule even if the signs and symbols of British India are now taboo, and those of the Mughal period, poison.
On Friday, January 21, 2022, the ‘flame’ of the Amar Jawan Jyoti, lit by the Indira Gandhi-led Congress Government, was “merged” with the one lit at the National War Memorial built by the Narendra Modi government. The Amar Jawan Jyoti was lit in 1972 to commemorate India’s victory in the 1971 Indo-Pak War, but since it was lit under the India Gate, which is representative of Colonial India, it is presumably unpalatable for Modi govt.
It cannot be a surprise then to see Justice Nariman rue the incongruity of pretty much everything under BJP’s rule. “Unfortunately, of late, we have in this country young persons, students, stand-up comedians and the like, all (of them) being booked for freely criticising the government of the day under sedition laws, which are really colonial in nature and have no place under our Constitution,’ he said.
“On the other hand, you have persons giving hate speech, what is called fighting words in Chaplinsky versus New Hampshire, or hate speech, actually calling for genocide… And we find reluctance of the authority to book these people,” he added.
Justice Rohinton Nariman finds it odious and egregious that the “higher echelons” of the ruling BJP is not only “silent but almost endorsing it (hate speech).’’
The retired top court judge was delivering the keynote address at the virtual opening of a law school in Mumbai on January 14, the day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented a refurbished Kashi Vishwanath temple to his parliamentary constituency Varanasi from the banks of the Ganga.
Justice Nariman labelled the sedition law unconstitutional and a criminal act. “It is criminalised under Section 153A and 505 (c) of the Indian Penal Code,” he said. “Unfortunately, in practice though a person can be given up to three years’ imprisonment, this never really happens because there are no minimum sentences prescribed.”
Nariman said to ensure rule of law, Parliament should amend the Constitution to “prove a minimum sentence” to act as “deterrence” against hate speech. “So when you have 19 (1) (a) being administered as it is being administered today, there is a big red signal…(as) far as the rule of law is concerned. It is time to do away completely with these sedition laws and allow free speech, so long as ultimately it does not exhort someone to violence and ends up as being hate speech.’’
However, to expect the Modi government to take Justice Nariman’s suggestion seriously and do away with the sedition law is laughable. Only the Rip Van Winkles of our times would not know that the Narendra Modi government, now nearly eight years old, has a plan for India and Indians for years to come. Justice Nariman spoke on January 14 but what he spoke of and about is today, less than a week later, not even the background score.
So, Justice Rohinton Nariman’s speech notwithstanding, the British era sedition law seems set to be here at least till Modi govt is in power.
Views are personal