Sedition law: Govt keeps its cards close to chest

The Supreme Court in 2021, in response to a clutch of petitions, put the sedition law in abeyance all over the country. While the law commission has recommended more stringent punishment under the law, the Centre has yet not made its stand clear on the issue, writes Amitabh Srivastva

Once again the controversial Sedition Law of 1870, known as Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code is in public domain for removal/amendment but no one is sure which way the decision will go.

In a historic move in 2021 after hearing a clutch of petitions in the Supreme Court, challenging the law, the highest court put the law in abeyance all over the country.

The Centre as usual is prevaricating and has not come out with a clear cut stand on the matter involving hundreds of politicians, journalists, intellectuals and activists who have been put behind bars for raising dissenting opinions.

All that the Centre has done is to divert attention by reshuffling the portfolio of the Law Minister.

Since the earlier one, Kiren Rijiju was too hostile to the Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and the Supreme Court generally, he was dropped, and Arjun Ram Meghwal was given the charge of the crucial ministry.

Immediately after taking charge, Meghwal tried to cool down tempers by saying that the government will take a decision on the matter after discussion with various stakeholders involved.

Meanwhile there were alarm bells about the 279th recommendation of the Law Commission of India which recommended in its report that punishment under the Sedition Law must be enhanced from 3 years to 7 years.

This appeared contrary to the Centre’s response in the Supreme Court last year that it was willing to do a rethink about the law that Mahatma Gandhi called the ‘Prince’ among all the laws of the IPC during his trial in March 1922 which sent him to six years in jail.

Contrary to expectations, the Law Commission has clearly stated that the Sedition Law was not only a must to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the country but recommended that the tenure of punishment under it must be enhanced from three years to seven years.

Meghwal said on his Twitter handle that the Government would take an ‘informed decision’ about the matter after consultation with various stakeholders.

But he let the cat out of the bag when he said that the Law Commission report was ‘persuasive’ but not ‘binding’.

“The law commission report on Sedition is one of the steps in the extensive consultative process. The recommendations made in the report are persuasive and not binding,” he wrote on Twitter.

We don’t know if the Minister is serious about consultations but lawyers, journalists and prominent citizens have started to come out openly against the law.

The Congress was the first to react which had in its manifesto clearly stated that it would do away with the Draconian Law which is slightly ironic, but that’s how politics is.

Journalists are obviously agitated. Umakant Lakhera, President, Press Club of India, says, “It is very unfortunate that this draconian law which was enacted by the British in 1870 to suppress the voice of political opponents and editors is being used by the present regime celebrating its 75 years of independence (the Amritkal of India). The intention seems to be the same- to kill the voice of dissent, stifle all opposition and crush people’s movements through threats and jail terms.”