Skip to main content

Include promise to repeal sedition law in Congress poll manifesto: Chidambaram told

P Chidambaram
Counterview Desk
In an open letter, the advocacy group South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre’s Ravi Nair has asked senior Congress leader P Chidambaram to include the promise to repeal sedition law, Section 124-A, IPC in Congress’ election manifesto for 2019, even expecting several Congress-ruled or supported states to take “immediate” steps to repeal it through state amendments. The letter comes following Chidambaram, a former Union home minister, condemning the “malicious” charge of sedition against Kanhaiya Kumar.
The letter regrets that the sedition law was “misused” during successive Congress governments, too, though pointing out, the present BJP government has used “in a manner that the worst authoritarian anywhere on the planet would find difficult to emulate.” Nair insists, “A formal commitment in the Congress Party manifesto will draw a line under the Congress Party’s past on this important issue.”

Text of the letter:

We would like to reiterate the request that the Congress Party consider the inclusion of repeal of Section 124A in its 2019 election manifesto. I hope that State Governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Puducherry and Karnataka will also be urged to take immediate steps for its repeal through State Amendments in order to send a salutary signal to the present Union Government and the BJP ruled states that harassing citizens for exercising their democratic right to question the government and its agencies goes against the idea of India.
We were heartened to read your statement on the malicious sedition charge filed by the Delhi Police against Kanhaiya Kumar and other students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and we welcome your view that there needs to be a debate on whether such a law has a place in the laws of a democratic republic.
While your reaction is of great import, coming as it is from a former Union Home Minister and eminent lawyer, we also hope that you and Mr. Kapil Sibal, another eminent lawyer from your party who has called for the law to be scrapped, will initiate a discussion in the Congress party and ensure that the party includes the repeal of Section 124A of the IPC in its manifesto for the 2019 general elections. I hope the provision will be eviscerated from the criminal justice system once the Congress Party becomes a major pillar of any new power structure that emerges following the general elections.
While the above-mentioned section was misused during successive earlier Congress governments, the present BJP government has used in a manner that the worst authoritarian anywhere on the planet would find difficult to emulate. A formal commitment in the Congress Party manifesto will draw a line under the Congress Party’s past on this important issue.
In 2016, the section was used to file sedition charges against the President of your party, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, and leaders of other political parties in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Section 124A, which was introduced in 1870 by the British via an amendment in the Penal Code, was also used to imprison Bal Gangadhar Tilak and charge Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Azad for allegedly causing“disaffection” towards the Government.
It is unbecoming for an independent India to continue with such an undemocratic colonial era provision. It is a cognizable, non-bailable and a non-compoundable offence.With mandatory compensation not being an enforceable right in India and only allowed at a judge’s discretion, which is extremely rare, the provision has become a convenient tool to suppress not merely political opposition but stifle dissent of the mildest kind. Successful criminal action against law enforcement personnel for malicious prosecution has not been possible thus far for a variety of reasons.
The safeguards available through judicial determination based on the precedents set in the case of Balwant Singh v State of Punjab and Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar have been defeated due to judicial delay, prohibitive legal costs and the lack of proper investigations by incompetent police machinery.

In the case of Balwant Singh v State of Punjab, the Supreme Court ruled:
“Some more overt act was required to bring home the charge… The police officials exhibited lack of maturity and more of sensitivity in arresting the appellants for raising the slogans – which arrest -and not the casual raising of one or two slogans – could have created a law and order situation, keeping in view the tense situation prevailing on the date of the assassination of Smt. Indira Gandhi. In situations like that, over sensitiveness sometimes is counterproductive and can result in inviting trouble. Raising of some lonesome slogans, a couple of times by two individuals, without anything more, did not constitute any threat to the Government of India as by law established nor could the same give rise to feelings of enmity or hatred among different communities or religious or other groups.”
Most citizens today are conscious of how the provision can and is being abused by an authoritarian right-wing, Hindutva fundamentalist government. It is essential to repeal such laws to ensure the survival of India’s democratic system and values. The Congress Party needs to take the lead in building a consensus to repeal a law that inhibits non-violent freedom of speech and expression.
Since the general elections are still a few months away, there is still time before a new non-BJP government comes to power at the Centre, the Congress Party leadership must affirm its commitment to repeal the sedition law and encourage States with Congress Governments in power (Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Puducherry and Karnataka, in coalition) to bring state amendments to the IPC to repeal Section 124A.
Kanhaiya Kumar
Sedition law under IPC is criminal in nature and hence falls under the Concurrent List. This implies that the Union Parliament as well as the State Legislature can make and amend laws on sedition.
As you are aware, the legislative procedure for State amendments to the IPC is the same as introducing a new law. The procedure required therein is given under the Constitution of India.
The amendment bill needs to be introduced in one of the Houses of the legislature (in case of bicameral houses) and needs to be passed by a simple majority by both Houses before the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly (since it is an ordinary bill). In the Legislative Council, the bill needs to be passed within three months from the date of laying it on the table, or in case it is rejected, within one month after it has been passed for the second time by the Legislative Assembly. Once passed by the House or Houses, the bill is sent for the assent of the Governor, who can either give his/her assent, send the bill back to the House or Houses for consideration or reserve the bill for consideration of the President.
We are cognizant of the fact that the bill will face impediments when it reaches the stage of assent as it will be hit by Article 254 of the Constitution of India.
The above-mentioned Article provides that:
“254. Inconsistency between laws made by Parliament and laws made by the Legislatures of States
(1) If any provision of a law made by the Legislature of a State is repugnant to any provision of a law made by Parliament which Parliament is competent to enact, or to any provision of an existing law with respect to one of the matters enumerated in the Concurrent List, then, subject to the provisions of clause ( 2 ), the law made by Parliament, whether passed before or after the law made by the Legislature of such State, or, as the case may be, the existing law, shall prevail and the law made by the Legislature of the State shall, to the extent of the repugnancy, be void
(2) Where a law made by the Legislature of a State with respect to one of the matters enumerated in the concurrent List contains any provision repugnant to the provisions of an earlier law made by Parliament or an existing law with respect to that matter, then, the law so made by the Legislature of such State shall, if it has been reserved for the consideration of the President and has received his assent, prevail in that State: Provided that nothing in this clause shall prevent Parliament from enacting at any time any law with respect to the same matter including a law adding to, amending, varying or repealing the law so made by the Legislature of the State.”

The Supreme Court has explained the application of the Article as thus:
Article 254 of the Constitution makes provision firstly, as to what would happen in the case of conflict between a Central and State law with regard to the subjects enumerated in the Concurrent List, and secondly, for resolving such conflict. Article 254(1) enunciates the normal rule that in the event of a conflict between a Union and a State law in the concurrent field, the former prevails over the latter. Clause (1) lays down that if a State law relating to a Concurrent subject is ‘repugnant’ to a Union law relating to that subject, then, whether the Union law is prior or later in time, the Union law will prevail and the State law shall, to the extent of such repugnancy, be void. To the general rule laid down in Clause (1), Clause (2) engrafts an exception, viz, that if the President assents to a State law which has been reserved for his consideration, it will prevail notwithstanding its repugnancy to an earlier law of the Union, both laws dealing with a Concurrent subject. In such a case, the Central Act will give way to the State Act only to the extent of inconsistency between the two, and no more. In short, the result of obtaining the assent of the President to a State Act which is inconsistent with a previous Union law relating to a Concurrent subject would be that the State Act will prevail in that State and override the provisions of the Central Act in their applicability to that State only. The predominance of the State law may however be taken away if Parliament legislates under the Proviso to Clause (2).
A Bill which attracts Article 254(2) or Article 304(b) where it is introduced or moved in the Legislative Assembly of a State without the previous sanction of the President or which attracted Article 31(3) as it was then in force, or falling under the second proviso to Article 200 has necessarily to be reserved for the consideration of the President.
Therefore, once the law is passed in the State Legislatures, it will require the assent of the President in order to come into effect. Given the present political situation in the country, it is certain that the current President may not give assent to the bill. However, the passage of the bill by the State Legislatures will stand as strong testament to the rejection and protest against the draconian implementation of an un-democratic sedition law to stifle dissent and freedom of speech.
In the event of the President rejecting the bill, which will be no surprise, the non-BJP State Governments should publicly resolve not to implement the sedition law in their states as a mark of their protest and abhorrence against a draconian law that goes against our democratic values.
We would like to reiterate the request that the Congress Party consider the inclusion of repeal of Section 124A in its 2019 election manifesto. I hope that State Governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Puducherry and Karnataka will also be urged to take immediate steps for its repeal through State Amendments in order to send a salutary signal to the present Union Government and the BJP ruled states that harassing citizens for exercising their democratic right to question the government and its agencies goes against the idea of India. It will also assert, in no uncertain terms, the political consensus of all progressive parties on ensuring the freedom of expression and association, which are the cornerstone of our democracy.



Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Union budget 'mum' on relief to marginalised communities facing climate change impact

Counterview Desk  ActionAid, an international advocacy group which claims to work for a world without poverty, patriarchy and injustice, has wondered if the Union budget 2023-24, which is being acclaimed for providing succour to the middle classes, has anything to offer to the India's poor. In a statement, it said, while the budget may have "prioritised inclusive development", the financial outlay for ensuring it "does not show the zeal as hoped." Stating that the Finance Minister said Rs 35,000 crore revenue would have to be "forgone" due to a reduction in personal income taxes, "fiscal prudence is not enough to expand public employment, social security, welfare, education and health expenditures considerably." "The need of the hour is to raise revenues through the reduction of revenues forgone and innovative mechanisms such as wealth tax on super accumulation of wealth", it added. Text: The Union Budget 2023 has given significant

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Why no information with Assam state agency about female rhino poaching for a year?

By Nava Thakuria   According to official claims, incidents of poaching related to rhinoceros in various forest reserves of Assam in northeast India have decreased drastically. Brutal laws against the poachers, strengthening of ground staff inside the protected forest areas and increasing public awareness in the fringe localities of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the State are the reasons cited for positively impacting the mission to save the one-horned rhinos. Officials records suggest, only two rhinos were poached in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve since 1 January 2021 till date. The last incident took place probably in the last week of December 2021, as a decomposed carcass of a fully-grown (around 30 years old) female rhino was recovered inside the world-famous forest reserve next month. As the precious horn was missing, for which the gigantic animal was apparently hunted down, it could not be a natural death. Ironically, however, it was not confirmed when

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Lack of welfare schemes, BSF curbs force West Bengal farmers to migrate far away

Counteview Desk  In a representation to the National Human Rights Commission chairperson, a senior West Bengal based activist has complained that villagers living near the border with Bangladesh are forced to migrate to as far away as Mumbai and Kerala because of lack of government sensitivity towards their welfare in original villages. Giving specific instances, Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), said, if the Border Security Force (BSF) had not put any restriction on agricultural activities, and if villages had properly implemented welfare schemes, these people would never migrate to other States. Text: I want to attract your immediate attention to the inhumane condition of the migrated workers of Gobra village, Swarupnagar Block in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal to seek your urgent intervention to protect the rights of these people. Gobra is a village situated near the Indo-Bangladesh Border where the border fencing is about 500 meters i

Bangladesh 'rights violations': US softens stance, fears increased clout of China, India

By Tilottama Rani Charulata*  In December 2021, in addition to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the United States imposed sanctions on seven former and current officers of the force, alleging serious human rights violations. Benazir Ahmed and former RAB-7 commander Miftah Uddin Ahmed were banned from entering the US. RAB as an institution was also canceled the support it was getting from the US and its allies. At the same time, those under the ban have been notified of confiscation of assets held abroad. The anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police, RAB is the elite force consisting of members of the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Civil Service and Bangladesh Ansar, and has been criticized by rights groups for its use of extrajudicial killings and is accused of forced disappearances. The government of Bangladesh has been insisting about lifting the ban on RAB, but the US had till recen