There may indeed be a case for a fresh look at Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) dealing with sedition, but one must not allow this academic debate on the validity of such a provision to cloud the core issue that is before us, namely, the shameful assault on our Constitution and the challenge posed to India’s unity and integrity by a bunch of students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi and in the Jadavpur University campus in West Bengal.
Just read the contents of the poster put up in JNU for the controversial event held on February 9 last and you will realise that centrifugal forces have begun to exert pressure on the nation’s core. The poster said it was a “cultural evening of protest” (whatever that means) with poets, artists and singers. It said this event was “Against the judicial killing of Afzal Guru & Maqbool Bhat; in solidarity with the struggle of the Kashmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination.”
Further, it said there would be an art exhibition & a photo exhibition portraying “the history of the occupation of Kashmir & the people’s struggle against it”. It invited everyone “to join us in protest, in rage against the occupation and in solidarity with the valiant people of Kashmir.” A recent Delhi High Court order on a bail application moved by a student arrested in this connection, quoted the slogans that the students were raising at this alleged cultural evening. Just read them and decide for yourself whether any Indian citizen who stands committed to the unity and integrity of India; who has any respect for our Constitution, and for the soldiers defending our borders would ever raise such slogans? Here they are:
Afzal Guru, Maqbool Bhat Zindabad; Bharat Ki Barbadi Tak Jung Rahegi, Jung Rahegi; Go India, Go Back; Indian Army Murdabad; Bharat Tere Tukkde Honge I Inshaallah, Inshaallah; Afzal Ki Hatya Nahi Sahenge, Nahi Sahenge; and finally, Bandook Ki Dum Par Lenge Azadi.
The High Court Judge was apprised of the sequence of events leading to the controversial incident on February 9. A group of students initially sought and secured permission for “a cultural evening” at the Sabarmati Dhaba on the JNU campus. Later, JNU authorities realised that some mischief was afoot when they saw the posters put up in all the hostels. These posters referred to ‘the judicial killing’ of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat. Apprehending trouble, the university authorities cancelled the permission given to the organsiers and also called in the police. That evening “the shouting of anti-national slogans continued unabated”.
The High Court was also given a set of photographs which showed students holding posters with photographs of Afzal Guru, who was one of the masterminds behind the attack on India’s Parliament in December, 2001. In other words, in the name of “democracy” and “free speech”, they were espousing the cause of a terrorist who planned the assault on our temple of democracy! The posters put up in Jadavpur University went even further. One poster said: Hum Kya Chahe — AZADI: Kashmir ki Azadi; Nagaland Ki Azadi; Manipur Ki Azadi.
Shockingly, there are professors in JNU and elsewhere who claim that these slogans fall within the ambit of “Freedom of Expression” guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution! Referring to the slogans raised in JNU, Justice Pratibha Rani of the Delhi High Court said: “Suffice it to note that such persons enjoy the freedom to raise such slogans in the comfort of the university campus but without realising that they are in this safe environment because our forces are there at the battle field situated at the highest altitude in the world where even oxygen is so scarce that those who are shouting anti-national slogans holding posters of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat close to their chest honouring their martyrdom, may not be even able to withstand such conditions for an hour …”
Further, the judge observed that such slogans may have a demoralising effect on the family of martyrs who return home in coffins draped in the tricolour. The judge was even more trenchant when dealing with anti-national slogans raised in the university campus. She said those shouting such slogans cannot claim protection of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. Whenever there is an infection in a limb, the first effort is to cure it through antibiotics, followed by a second line of treatment. “Sometimes, it may require surgical intervention also. However, if the infection results in infecting the limb to the extent that it becomes gangrene, amputation is the only treatment”.
Many pseudo-secularists, who are now doubling up as pseudo-nationalists, are unable to stomach the rapier-like thrust of the Learned Judge’s observations and are trying to belittle her by saying that she had delivered a sermon when called upon to pass an order on a bail application. Some others have been even more uncharitable, but their objections need to be brushed aside, because they are unwilling to address the primary issue and punish the original sinners who were mocking at India’s Constitution and the country’s unity and integrity.
Frustrated by the drubbing that their parties received in the Lok Sabha poll of 2014 (total vote share — 4 per cent ), the two main communist parties have been orchestrating many campaigns against the Narendra Modi government ever since it came to power in May, 2014. Such is their desperation that they have now begun to support groups espousing fissiparous ideas. As a result, the Hate-Modi Campaign is now slowly turning into a Hate-India campaign.
An “eminent jurist”, while stating the legal position, has gone on record to say that it is not a criminal offence to be anti-national. Similarly, it can be argued that no citizen is legally bound to remain committed to the unity and integrity of India. If the provision relating to sedition is out-dated, how come none of those supporting these students, has suggested legislative measures to enforce loyalty to the Constitution?
Are there no limits to tolerance? Is it too much to ask a citizen to remain loyal to the country’s Constitution, its flag, its unity and integrity? Can India, which is such a diverse society, survive this kind of permissiveness? We are all aware that there is a lunatic fringe towards the left of our political spectrum. Should we allow it to occupy centre-stage and gnaw at the vitals of the most liberal, democratic and plural nation in the world?
The author is chairperson of Prasar Bharati.