Parties remain bitterly divided over sedition law


Congress says the law is misused, BJP defends it

The Centre made an about-turn on the sedition law on May 9, two days after it defended it in the Supreme Court. It said it will relook at it in keeping with PM Modi’s vision of reviewing colonial-era laws. Legal experts have mixed views and politicians are divided on party lines over Section 124A of the IPC, popularly known as the sedition law.

M.G. Mahesh, a BJP spokesperson from Karnataka, informed The Observer that the party is in total support of the sedition law. “We need to speak up against the anti-nationals and miscreants, who speak against the prosperity of the country.”

The Congress has a contrasting view. M.V. Rajeev Gowda, a spokesperson of the party, said: “Our 2019 manifesto calls for the abolishment of the sedition law. There we argued that it is a colonial hangover, is widely misused and politicized and has no place in a free democratic country…. If you want to go after terrorists, there are other laws, like UAPA, that can address the issues. So, basically, there is no need to keep this on the statute.”

Gowda, a former Rajya Sabha member, added that scrapping the sedition law will not affect the Centre in any way. It will prevent misuse of the law to target political opponents and prevent free speech and protests, which are fundamental rights.

Brijesh Kalappa, a Supreme Court advocate and Congress member, said it is unlikely the Centre would do away with the sedition law altogether. “If the government wants to put down anything scientific or crush dissent, they would need something, so they won’t do away with the law at all,” he said. However, he was unclear on what alterations will be made to the law. 

Speaking with The Observer, he said: “One needs to be a party insider to know what is going in their minds about the law. They will need to know if anyone is criticizing the government or they are criticizing the state. If one is criticizing the Indian State, then the Centre would certainly like to keep the provisions.”

CPI general secretary D. Raja said he introduced a private member’s Bill in the Rajya Sabha in  2011 to abolish the sedition law. “It is a colonial law. Article 124A of the Indian Penal Code should be amended and sedition laws should be removed from the statute. We, as a party, are opposed to the sedition law. The government will say many things, but the primary purpose of the law is to intimidate and terrorize those who oppose the government. If you see the National Crimes (Records) Bureau report and check how many chargesheets have been filed, it explains the hollowness of the government’s claim.”

On the Centre statement it will reconsider the law, Raja said: “Let’s see what the court has to say. Our official stand will remain the same.”

The Supreme Court had first issued the notice to the Centre in July 2021 about the challenge to the legality of Section 124A, which criminalizes sedition. As per the law, sedition is a non-bailable offence, punishable with imprisonment from three years up to life, along with a fine.

The court had then asked the government why it was not repealing the sedition law used by the British to silence people like Mahatma Gandhi.

The sedition law was brought by the British colonial government in 1970 to primarily suppress the writings and speeches of prominent Indian freedom fighters. 

According to the Law Commission’s 2018 report, the Constituent Assembly had opposed inclusion of sedition as a restriction on freedom of speech and expression under the then Article 13.


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