Opinion DC Comment 16 Jan 2019 Kanhaiya ‘sedi ...

Kanhaiya ‘sedition’ charge unjustified

DECCAN CHRONICLE.
Published Jan 16, 2019, 7:12 am IST
Updated Jan 16, 2019, 7:12 am IST
The inference is that the “nationalism” the RSS-BJP lay down is beyond challenge.
Student leader Kanhaiya Kumar at a rally.
 Student leader Kanhaiya Kumar at a rally.

Those accused of killing a cow are nowadays proceeded against under the National Security Act (which allows no bail), and those critical of the government have the charge of “sedition” slapped, as in the case of Kanhaiya Kumar. In Assam, respected intellectual Hiren Gohain, and leading activists Atul Gogoi and Manjit Mahanta have been charged with sedition for opposing the Citizenship Bill.

The inference is that the “nationalism” the RSS-BJP lay down is beyond challenge. According to this thinking, opposition to the government can be deemed “anti-national”, and the charge of “sedition” is bandied about with reckless abandon. In reality, the meaning of “nationalism” — understood by all sections of India — relates to the great, decades-long, anti-colonial mobilisation under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and other stalwarts of the movement to free India from British rule. This meaning is effectively suppressed by the ruling establishment, which equates nationalism with the privileging of religion, social practices and the mythologies linked to the country’s majority community. The RSS is unable to look beyond this view as it had absented itself from the anti-colonial movement as a matter of policy. Former JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar, whose case has become something of a cause celebre, has been charged with sedition and being part of a conspiracy to break up India. The Delhi police, which functions under the Union government, took three years to formally bring a chargesheet against him on Monday, though the police is meant to submit charges within three months of an offence being committed.

 

This has raised political suspicion that the matter has been brought to court just three months before the Lok Sabha polls in order to distract attention from the grave issues of the day — the agrarian crisis, the loss of 11 million jobs in 2018 alone, and the Rafale fighter deal controversy where corruption is alleged, besides the crippling of institutions, as seen in the case of the dismissed CBI director recently. Mr. Kumar- — along with some others, most notably Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya — was booked three years ago for allegedly organising a demonstration at the JNU campus where anti-India slogans were raised. Earlier, he was cleared of these charges by a magistrate on the ground that the videos relied upon were found to be doctored.

None of this really matters. The settled law since 1962 derives from the Kedar Nath Singh judgment in which the Supreme Court read down the sedition law brought by the British in the 19th century. Subsequently, in the Balwant Singh case, the court held that shouting slogans in favour of “Khalistan” would not qualify as sedition. The charge of “sedition” is attracted only when words or actions against the government lead to violence. The government needs to take a pause and reconsider the entire issue.

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