NEW DELHI -- The news that several Opposition leaders including Congress Party vice president Rahul Gandhi, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Community Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury, have been slapped with charges of sedition for speaking in support of JNU students charged with sedition has inspired much critical commentary.
The news has led many to comment that this is reminiscent of the Emergency, when Indira Gandhi suspended civil liberties and threw political opponents in prison.
Yes, sedition is a charge that has no place in a modern democracy. And yes, it is indeed terrible that political leaders can get slapped with sedition for merely speaking in support of someone who was unfairly slapped with sedition charges to begin with.
But it would have been a serious matter only if the BJP could have been at least remotely been behind the incident. That is not the case.
To begin with, the case arises from a private petition against seven political leaders and two JNU students, which has been filed by one S. Janardhan Goud in the court of a Metropolitan Magistrate in L.B. Nagar, which falls in the state of Telangana.
Neither the state government of Telangana (a non-BJP government) nor the Modi government at the Centre could be argued to have influenced the matter.
Instead of throwing out the petition on the grounds of absurdity, the magistrate followed routine procedure and asked the local police to register the case against the nine men. This seems quite reasonable compared to the summons for Lord Hanuman to appear in a Bihar court.
"It is a court-referred matter. Following the court's directive, a case under section 124A of the IPC (sedition) has been registered yesterday against nine persons, including Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, Sitaram Yechury, JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar and others," said S. Lingaiah, Inspector of Saroornagar Police Station.
The court hearing is for scheduled for March 4.
Now, Goud, a practicing advocate, is really disturbed by the videos he has seen of "anti-national" sloganeering, which have allegedly been taking place on JNU campus, and he is upset that Gandhi and other political leaders are hobnobbing with students who organize these activities.
"I have been told that the videos are genuine and that some students really chanted slogans that they will cut the country into pieces. How can Rahul Gandhi and other leaders sit alongside such student leaders and express support to them when they chant anti-national slogans? I am a citizen of this country and I want to know what is going on at JNU and why these leaders visited the students. That is why I filed the petition," he told The Indian Express.
It is the right of any Indian citizen to have their day in court. Thakur Chandan Kumar Singh, a lawyer in Bihar, recently sued Lord Rama for cruelty to Sita.
But good luck to Goud making a case for sedition because Section 124A (as jurists have been at pains to explain after the JNU row) is is only invoked if words, spoken or written, are accompanied by disorder and violence and/ or incitement to disorder and violence.
Many such cases are filed against politicians all over the country. They tend to get dismissed at some stage in a higher court. There is no case to argue that the BJP is cracking down on Opposition leaders.
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