Criticism cannot be sedition
Columns, Point of View

Criticism cannot be sedition

May 19, 2020

By T.J.S. George

Two things worry me. Deeply. Feeling patriotic, I sat glued to the television set for the Prime Minister’s “address to the nation.” After two minutes I felt hungry and moved to the dining table. Like me the majority of people in the South must have lost interest in the Hindi prabhashan. I don’t feel good about my lack of interest in Hindi.  But I don’t feel guilty either.

The second thing that sent me off to the dining table was the nothing-new feeling created by the Prime Ministerial message. Economic package. Rebuilding. Demand-Supply chakra. Self-reliance. Rs. 20 lakh crore for self-reliant India.  Of course, if even a few of the promises are fulfilled, it will be progress. But the fact remains that we have lived for 70 years on slogans, the last six of them on well-phrased slogans well delivered.  They didn’t click because urgent issues, like massive movement of migrant labour, were ignored.

But one thing is new, and disturbing. Sedition law is being used to suppress the common democratic right of criticism.  Patel, a local journalist in Gujarat, was booked for sedition when he uploaded a report about Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.  It was a routine report saying that there were problems between the Chief Minister and the BJP High Command, the kind of report that appears about many State leaderships in many forums. If the report was incorrect, both the Chief Minister and the BJP High Command could have publicly said so and the media would have been obliged to publish the denial.

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But that is not what the Rupani Government did.  It ensured that the Ahmedabad Police crime branch filed an FIR against Patel under the Sedition Act.  The Police Chief perhaps saw the farcical nature of the action and said: “As a precautionary measure in view of the Coronavirus pandemic, Patel has been detained, not arrested, and sent to SVP Hospital for COVID treatment.”  Thus the Police turned the sedition story into a Corona story.

Sedition means inciting people to rebel against the State. In Indian democratic system, Governments have always been criticised by political opponents and by media.  This was never interpreted as rebellion against the State.  Therefore, using the Sedition Act to prevent legitimate give-and-take in a democracy is a cheap trick.  It won’t work.  BJP and Congress, CPM and Trinamool, all must face democracy’s challenges; none can get refuge behind sedition laws.

Strangely, many of our elected leaders seem to believe that, once elected, they are above the checks and balances of democracy.  Such leaders resort to sedition laws at the slightest provocation. Parliamentary criticism of a Government or a Minister is the essence of democracy.  To say that such criticism is sedition amounting to rebellion against the State is nonsense.

That the Rupani Government in Gujarat resorted to nonsensical procedures to silence critics is ironical.  Gujarat has the worst morbidity rate in the country. The first COVID cases were confirmed in Gujarat. It remains the worst affected State after Maharashtra.  Gujarat became known for announcing precipitate policies without giving people sufficient notice. People were banned from leaving their homes; shops were closed for a week.

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Ahmedabad is notorious for localities crammed with people Dharavi-style.  In fact it is worse because, unlike in Dharavi, religion plays a role in separating one over-crammed sector from another.  Large numbers of men and women sharing one bathroom is scary enough.  Imagine the complications if the scarce bathrooms are segregated religion-wise as well. Many years of rule by BJP stalwarts have not succeeded in improving the situation in Gujarat and in its capital in particular.

British bureaucratic legalese is the hallmark of the sedition law that India still follows.  It says that “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, shall be punished…” A century and a half have passed since the original enactment.  But the language — and the mentality — remain unchanged. 

The Prime Minister deflects all criticism by giving his oratory full play.  Abraham Lincoln was no orator.  He delivered the Gettysburg Address in a most unimpressive style.  But it changed the course of history.  Infosys Founder N.R. Narayana Murthy recently made a relevant comment.  “India cannot continue in this situation for long. At some point deaths due to hunger will outweigh deaths due to Corona. We must facilitate return to work by the able-bodied while protecting the vulnerable.”

Wisdom, not oratory.

5 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Criticism cannot be sedition”

  1. Sunny says:

    Amazing analysis Mr. George. Appreciate your thoughtful writings. You are right on target.

  2. Saleem says:

    Corona was not the biggest disaster for India because India was hit the biggest disaster called Modi! Now over the pst 6 years Modi can’t be trusted and RSS terrorists and BJP goons under the guidance of Modi are going to ruin the nation much more than a virus! See how China Pak and even Nepal started treating us? This never happened in 7 decades! Hope in the next election we elect Rahul and regain the old order and good old days! India’s response to Corona is much worse than even Pakistan! George had always pointed out rightly in all his writings how Modi is such a big disaster evoking hatred from Bhakths

  3. Harsha says:

    For those who wants to really appreciate what we have today, you can watch the movie ‘Indu Sarkar’ on Amazon Prime or probably available in many other places!! Amazing movie which is so closely related to facts of that day!! Mysteriously people who are so critical to present government for 5 years were all supporters of the ruling party then and never opened their mouth!

  4. Jasbir Singh says:

    First of all, I am neither a BJP supporter nor Congress!! So, all those who want to call me a Bhakth, you can hold off your rant. What bothers me in today’s political situation in India worries me. I have some of my family members serving Indian armed forces and our freedom of press is intimidating to say the least.
    Last week, there were some skirmishes in Sikkim border between India and China! Our press Like NDTV, Indian express, Deccan herald, Economic times, CNN-IBN and Hindu immediately reported that some Indian soldiers were detained for several hours and released. even after Indian army denied any such detentions.Our media trusted the Chinese official media more than the Indian Army , as though they are under some spell! Similar situation happened when Indian Army declared that they conducted Surgical strikes, NDTV and mainstream media along with opposition parties treated like our Army was a Liar and did not tell the truth. Do these agencies have the proof that Chinese media was telling the truth? Then, why Army has to prove that they are truthful? They are assumed guilty until proven trustworthy!
    Army was treated like untrustworthy and crooked agency until they released the video proof! Some even went farther to say that those videos were fake, towing the Pakistani line!
    Our left leaning liberals of JNU, people like George always are ready to rescue China or Pakistan while they continue to sow that suspicion that our Army is full of rapists who are killing innocent civilians and raping innocent girls in Kashmir valley, even after Army’s phenomenal service during Kashmir floods!
    What these leftists think is, our Army is not as Indian Army but because Modi is the PM, it is Modi’s Army! So, any abuse they hurl at Army is intended for Modi. They think is not an elected government but an illegitimate government formed by Modi and so even Army is abused! That is freedom of expression! Just a reminder, if you did the same thing in China against their army, you will end up an involuntary organ donar and your birth records will be erased!
    Last week George wrote a commendable piece rescuing China from blame! Cant our Army who serve India, not just Modi does not get some benefit of doubt? Other wise why should anybody serve this thankless people risking their lives! Let’s all bow down before China and Pakistan!!
    Another Trick our media and leftists invented is, start a Fake news and hit lines of news media and spread it in some Anti India foreign media. When caught with pants down, apologize on 10th page of your news paper in some remote section in small print !
    Now somebody tell me if this not qualify to be named sedition?

  5. Hare Krishna! says:

    “. Infosys Founder N.R. Narayana Murthy recently made a relevant comment. “India cannot continue in this situation for long. At some point deaths due to hunger will outweigh deaths due to Corona. We must facilitate return to work by the able-bodied while protecting the vulnerable.”
    In these dys of Corona virus pandemic, trust a businessman, for who earning money is the goal? Who is able bodied during this pandemic? Corona virus kills every one, when it gets severely lodged into human system. I do not support Modi,but he is doing right through this lock down. Does this Murthy not realise it has killed hundreds of thousands of people where lockdown was slack? He should shut up. If one is given given a choice between hunger and unemployment against death in a few days struck by Corina virus, the choice is clear.

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