Laws must be brought in to protect the people, and not the government
The Law Commission’s recommendation that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which deals with sedition be retained with more stringent punishment goes against the grain of the ground realities and instead reflects the thought shared by a section of our society which is yet to recognise the establishment of the Indian democratic republic with a Constitution of its own.
To start with, a serious rethinking of the Raj-era piece of legislation, which sought to punish those who “brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in” was initiated a decade after the republic was formed by people who rooted their thought in the idea of democracy and democratic governance. The Supreme Court, however, in the 1962 verdict upheld the constitutionality of the law while cautioning against its misuse.
The fact of the matter is that the law, in practice, was used mostly against people who are politically opposed to the government of the day, and not to those who fought the state. There has been no change till today in the way politicians in power use the laws and arms of the government against people who ask uncomfortable questions. In fact, it is the extent of the misuse of the law that forced the Supreme Court to stay the operation of the sedition law last year. It is sad that the Law Commission, which has suggested some safeguards against the misuse of the law, did not take into account the fact that police still book people under the law in this country despite the Supreme Court’s stay on it. Hard realities cannot be whitewashed with wishful thinking.
The cardinal sin of the Law Commission lies in its failure to appreciate the logic of those who brought in the law in 1860 and its disappearance 163 years later. The government of those days was a tool of the British crown, and hence disaffection of the government translated into disaffection of the crown and hence must be punished. The government in the republic is an administrative mechanism of the Indian state and the government is the tool of the people who make the state. Attempts to equate the state with the government are an unacceptable proposition in democracy. A government goes when the people develop disaffection for it; violence against the state may be dealt with by other laws.
Laws must be brought in to protect the people, and not the government. If protecting the government is the job of the law, then criticism of the government could easily be interpreted as anti-government, and silencing the critics will become perfectly legal. This is unacceptable. The commission’s position that the absence of a sedition law will lead to the invocation of more stringent laws such as Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 is specious in that the stringency of a law cannot be the reason for the existence of another; each law must have its own raison d’etre.
It is heartening that the Union government has taken a cautious approach to the recommendation with the law minister calling it an input in the wider process of consultation. The government must go in for wider consultation keeping in mind the expanding and progressive ideas of people’s rights over the governments they elect and come to a conclusion that goes with the democratic ethos of this nation.