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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 12 New Delhi March 12, 2016

On Jaitley’s Claim and Charge of ‘Sedition’

Sunday 13 March 2016, by SC


Finance Minister Arun Jailtley, speaking in his capacity as the Number Two person in the Narendra Modi Government, has made a facile claim at a conference of the BJP’s youth wing that the party, or to be more precise, the party’s student organisation, the ABVP, had won the “ideological war” in the JNU row. One can react to this with only a derisive smile.

Let us face the facts. The police had arrested the President of the JNU Students’ Union, Kanhaiya Kumar, on the charge of sedition—he was accused, on the basis of an FIR lodged with the police, of being hand in glove with those who had organised the programme, “A country without a post-office”, on Februry 9 wherein objectionable, anti-national and seditious slogans were allegedly raised calling for the breakup of India. Not only that. Kanhaiya was further charged with having uttered those slogans on the basis of videoclips (which were subsequently found to be doctored). However, Kanhaiya had himself, in a speech at the JNU a couple of days later, openly condemned those slogans—but all that was conveniently ignored and overlooked.

Why did Jaitley find it necessary to make the specious claim of the BJP’s victory in the “ideological war”? The reason is simple: Kanhaiya’s electrifying speech in the JNU campus on March 3 on his release after three weeks of detention had a tremendous effect across the country and beyond, especially in the social media where it received massive, spontaneous, rousing acclaim. So Jaitley was forced to engage in a damage-control exercise. And while doing so he came out with the fantastic assertion that the BJP had decisively won the “ideological war”. (How?—that is beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals likes us.)

Meanwhile two other students of the JNU—Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya—are still in detention. They too are being charged with sedition. But the moot question is: can they be charged with that offence? Experts, including eminent jurists, have unequivocally pointed out that even the slogans raised (they were uttered by neither Kanhaiya nor the other two students but by outsiders) did not fall under the category of sedition because in order to qualify for sedition such pronouncements must be accompanied by a call for violent insurrection or uprising.

Yet the authorities—that is, political leaders like Arun Jaitley in power with PM Narendra Modi—continue to use the term ‘sedition’ with gay abandon even if there is no basis for doing so. As the President of the All India Students’ Federation’s JNU unit, Aparajitha Raja’s article, “Where even the walls talk”, in The Indian Express (March 9, 2016) underlines,

These days, it seems that the most important law of the land is on sedition. I can’t stop wondering how this archaic colonial law became the defining legislation that determines our worthiness to remain citizens or be flung across the border. The speed at which sedition charges are being handed out is comic. It is time we dump this colonial baggage. However, in these dark times, sedition charges seem safer, considering that Comrades Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar and Professor M.M. Kalburgi were murdered without a hearing.

But then is anything better to be expected from the Narendra Modi Government? One of its members (HRD Minister Smriti Irani) continues to occupy the ministerial chair even after her state-ments in Parliament on Rohith Vemula’s suicide were refuted by none other than the victim’s mother and the doctor who had checked him soon after his death. This is nothing short of Goebbelsian propaganda seeking to mask the face of Hitlerite fascism under the Modi regime.

March 9 S.C.

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