NEW DELHI: When the Bombay High Court last week berated the Mumbai Police for slapping sedition charges against actor Kangana Ranaut and her sister Rangoli, asking “if anybody doesn’t fall within the line of the government, will that be sedition,” it was only underlining the increasing trend of governments to misuse this colonial law.
Data maintained by the National Crime Records Bureau, which started collating sedition numbers since 2014, shows that while there were 47 cases registered under Section 124A of the IPC (sedition) that year, it jumped to 93 in 2019, an increase of 98%.
While 27 states or Union Territories had not registered a single sedition case in 2014, that number fell to 19 last year, indicating more state governments were willing to charge people under the stringent law.
An analysis by this newspaper showed that BJP state governments invoked the law more than non-BJP ones. This is best illustrated by the experience in Karnataka, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.
The first two have BJP regimes while J&K is under Central rule. In all the three, there was a spike in sedition cases after they came under BJP rule. In 2019, Karnataka saw the maximum sedition cases ( 22), followed by Assam (17) and J&K (11).
Under Congress rule in Karnataka, two cases were filed in 2018; three each in 2015 and 2016; and none in 2014 and 2017.
Assam recorded 17 sedition cases each in two consecutive years of 2018 and 2019 — slightly lower than 2017 when it recorded 19 cases — the highest in the country for that year.
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However, Assam saw no case of sedition in 2016 when the BJP came to power. In 2015, too no sedition case was filed while in the previous year, one case was registered.
With the imposition of Central rule, sedition cases began climbing in J&K. While two cases were filed from 2014 to 2017, 12 were reported in 2018, the year it came under Central rule after the PDP-BJP government collapsed.
There were 11 cases in the following year. The situation is similar in Jharkhand, which under BJP rule in 2018 recorded the highest number of sedition cases (18).
However, that figure was matched in 2014 when the state was ruled by the JMM. While there was no case in Bihar in 2016, 2017 and 2019, it had 16 in 2014 and nine in the following year, the highest in the country during that period, and 17 in 2018.
The Bihar Police had lodged a sedition case against 49 celebrities, including Shyam Benegal and Mani Ratnam who had written an open letter to the PM on lynching.
While the FIFIR was later withdrawn, the incident is a grim reminder how the law continues to be a tool to stifle dissent in the country.
The BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh documented a liberal use of Section 124A during 2019 with 10 cases.
While the state recorded more cases during the Yogi Adityanath’s rule, six were registered in 2016 during the Samajwadi Party rule.
The Aam Aadmi Party ruled Delhi recorded four cases between 2016 and 2019. Madhya Pradesh saw sedition cases under both Congress and BJP rule. However, Rajasthan saw more cases under the Congress rule.
In Bengal, the use of Section 124A is consistent since 2014. There were 12 cases in six years barring 2018 when there was none.
While there were no cases between 2014 and 2018 in Nagaland, it saw eight in 2019. Neiphiu Rio, the incumbent chief minister, assumed office in 2018 after allying with the BJP.
Manipur was no exception with five cases in the past two years under the BJP. I n the South, Kerala showed no exception under either CPI(M) or Congress rule.
Between 2014 and 2016 under Oommen Chandy’s watch as the CM, it registered 11 cases. In contrast, 13 cases in all where reported in 2018 and 2019. The state has a CPI(M) government since 2016.
Under the AIADMK government, Tamil Nadu consistently recorded sedition cases — eight between 2017 and 2019. Telangana saw four cases between 2016 and 2019. Social activist Nikhil Dey said the colonial law should not have been a part of independent India’s framework.
“It is drafted in a fashion that so much so easily can be called sedition. It is open to misuse.”
A combination of Section 124A, the National Security Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are being invoked against people who are exercising their right of democratic opposition against the implementation of certain laws and policies, observed Dey.
Aditya Nigam, a senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said the colonial and extraordinary law is open to misuse by any state.
“However, the use of the provision was much rarer before the BJP government came into power. It has created a culture of vigilantism where the use of the section has become a generalised practice,” he said.
“In several cases, it is not initiated by states but by individuals from any part of the country who lodge a case under this section. It may not be of any consequence but brings any kind of dissent under the purview of sedition.”