Why is the Ashok Gehlot Govt invoking Sedition law in Rajasthan?

MLAs are public servants, and they can be prosecuted for such offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, says PUCL

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The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has brought to light that the Sedition law, one of the most contentious legal weapons, is now being used in Rajasthan’s ongoing political battle that is raging even as the nation continues to deal with the increasing number of Covid-19 cases.

Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot-led government has, via Mahesh Joshi, Chief Whip of the Indian National Congress (INC) party,  lodged three first information reports (FIRs) under sections, 120 (B) Conspiracy and 124 (A), Sedition. 

In a statement signed by Kavita Srivastava (President) and Anant Bhatnagar (General Secretary), the PUCL has highlighted the issue and expressed its shock and shared that, “FIR number 047/2020, dated July 10, 2020, FIR 048/2020, dated 17/07/2020 and FIR number 049/2020,” were lodged at the at the “Special Police Station (SOG), District ATS and SOG, Jaipur, under sections, 120 (B) Conspiracy and 124 (A), Sedition.” 

“Why Sedition,” asked Srivastava, adding that the biggest concern is “the misuse of the Sedition law.” She said, “Since 2011, PUCL has raised its voice for the repeal of the law on Sedition. Thousands of signatures were collected and given to the President of India. A Petition was filed for its repeal in the Petitions committee of the Rajya Sabha and we also wrote to the standing committee and the various law commissions, apart from taking public action against this.” 

She added that it was perhaps for the first time that the section has been used by a state government against its own legislatures. This, the  PUCL said, “shows its willful misuse against legislatures. Even if we go by the interpretation of the law in Kedar Nath Singh Vs the State of Bihar, 1962, SCI, AIR 955,  which upheld the validity of the law, namely, sec 124 A, it has been stated that it is applicable only if disaffection results in inciting violence in society, which is not the case here.”  

This also goes against the Congress party’s own Manifesto during the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, the PUCL pointed out. The Congress had “pledged to omit Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code” that defines the offence of Sedition “…as it has been misused and, in any event, has become redundant,” the PUCL pointed out and demanded that  the party “adhere to its commitment to the people of India and not allow the police to investigate the alleged acts, under the Sedition law.”  

Instead, the PUCL has asked why the Congress can not address the issue and allegations under the provisions of  Prevention of Corruption Act? “While the Indian Penal Code does not criminalize actions of destabilizing Government, but if the Government wanted to at all criminalize such actions, as is happening in Rajasthan, and have happened earlier in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, then, chapter 3 of the Prevention of Corruption could have been used against receiving or attempting to receive bribes,” stated PUCL. “MLAs are public servants under the Prevention of Corruption Act, and they can be prosecuted for such offences,” added Srivastava. 

The PUCL also shared the fact that at present, “provisions of the Constitution of India embodied within Schedule X are inadequate to deal with destabilising legally formed Government, neither is it an offence in the IPC.”  It reiterated that the Anti Defection Law too is “plagued with lacunae” and the issue needs attention.

Sec. 124A, IPC has been used by the past and the present Governments to stifle any criticism of the government actions and policies, the PUCL stated, adding that the Colonial origin law was once used against freedom fighters in the British era and is now being invoked  “against human rights defenders, civil society activists and now thousands of ordinary citizens, who are thrown in jails” for raising voices in dissent.

“We have also seen a manifold increase in the misuse of the law since the NDA came into power. the blatant misuse to intimidate and incarcerate those who dare to exercise their democratic right of criticizing the government and its policies,” stated PUCL. 

The activists also shared the historical critique of the law: “ Mahatma Gandhi had called sec. 124A IPC as ‘the prince amongst political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen…’  It is important to note that Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, in 1951, called Section (124A IPC) highly objectionable and obnoxious and said that it had no place both for practical and historical reasons and emphasized that the sooner we get rid of it the better.”

The PUCL added that it is “pained that the unfolding of these unfortunate events has happened in the midst of the most serious public health crisis, when the focus of all should have been on ameliorating the adverse impact caused by the lockdowns and the collapsing economy and addressing the public health needs.”  The activists, on behalf of the PUCL have appealed that the “misuse of the law on Sedition should be stopped altogether and be repealed from the statute books at the earliest.”


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