NEW DELHI: Among other things, the Congress manifesto made waves when it was released on Tuesday, because of party’s promise to amend the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and to repeal the sedition law in the country. Both issues, lampooned by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after the manifesto was released, were suggested by ‘Reclaiming the Republic’, a group of civil society members that include the likes of Justice (retd) AP Shah, Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan and activist Aruna Roy.
Members of the group had met Rajeev Gowda, Rajya Sabha MP and convener of the Congress’ manifesto committee, and presented suggestions on what they termed as the “most urgent actionable reforms”, according to Congress functionaries who were privy to the meeting. The document given to Gowda included the AFSPA amendment for the removal of immunity for sexual violence, torture and enforced disappearances and the scrapping of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code — sedition.
Even the political fallout of these issues was studied before they were included in the final draft, said one of the functionaries cited above. Gowda said there was a long consultation process before the manifesto was prepared. It was decided that the party needed to take a stand on laws that are unjust or unreasonably restrict freedoms, he added.
“You have to stand up for what is right and this is our democracy. If there are flaws in the way things are emerging, then you have to take a stand and explain that stand. We received suggestions from various civil society groups and there was a group with Reclaiming the Republic which talked about the review of laws,” said Gowda.
Activist Anjali Bhardwaj, who met Gowda while giving the document, said “we shared the document with all the political parties, including the BJP, and were invited for a meeting by the Congress, the Left parties and the RJD.”