New Delhi: The sedition charge levelled against JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar will cannot stand test of the law, say legal luminaries, expressing surprise over the government routinely slapping the measure against whosoever raises voice against it, saying it only shows how insecure the Narendra Modi regime is.
The sedition charge under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) prescribes a jail sentence from three years to life imprisonment for "whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India".
The then British government had used the measure against leaders of the Freedom Struggle like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi, who facing it in 1922 for his articles in his magazine Youth India, had described it as "prince among the political sections of IPC" designed to suppress the liberty of the citizens.
Activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan said offence of sedition could be established only if there is an incitement of violence or public disorder.
"Mere raising of the slogans, even against the country or against the state can not amount to sedition, though it is objectionable," he said, adding that the Supreme Court had laid down in the Kedarnath case in 1962 that offence of sedition could only be committed if there is an incitement of violence or public disorder.
How can Kanhaiya Kumar be charged with sedition when neither did he organise the alleged meeting to commemorate the hanging of Afzal Guru convicted in the Parliament attack case nor did he raise any slogans, asked Bhushan, asserting that it is absurd to charge him with sedition for the slogans raised by others.
He said interrogation of Delhi University teacher S.A.R. Geelani just because he participated in a media discussion and expressed some opinion on Afzal Guru clearly smacks of a "fascist onslaught" by the government.
"It should ring alarm bells across the country. It is becoming an undeclared emergency," Bhushan said.
Another senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal regretted that the government is taking a very easy way out by levelling sedition charges against anybody or everybody who raises voice against it.
"This reminds the people of pre-independence days or that of emergency time. Only in British Raj such things could have happened. Sedition laws are outdated and should be removed from the statute book," she said, decrying the high-handed manner in which the people are booked.
Describing the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar as shameful, Jaiswal says that it only goes to show "how insecure" the present government is. "It is an outdated law and all those believing in fundamental rights should press for dropping section 124-A from the Indian Penal Code (IPC) introduced by the British to haul up those engaged in the Independence movement."
Former judge of the Delhi High Court, Justice Rupinder Singh Sodhi, said: "I am personally of the view that ordinarily the sedition charges should not be invoked out of the hat.
"Sedition is a very serious offence and material should be weighed keeping in view the right to free speech. However, if there is evidence, then seditious material should not go unpunished."