Cong slams BJP, says it wants to use sedition law against Oppn leaders

New Delhi: With the law commission backing the sedition law, the Congress on Friday accused the BJP government of planning to make it more “draconian” and giving a message ahead of the general elections that it will be used against opposition leaders.

Alleging that the BJP uses the sedition law as a tool of “subversing, subjugating, and silencing dissent”, the opposition party also asked why the government has not yet had the courage to do away with the law despite the apex court rendering it inoperative and making strong observations in that regard. Addressing a press conference at the AICC headquarters here, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said, “A message of colonial mindset has been given that there will be a distance between the ruler and the ruled and through this law, the foundations of the republic will be uprooted.

A message has been given ahead of the general election that we will use this in a one-sided manner particularly against opposition leaders.” The Congress’ attack comes after the law commission backed the penal provision for the offence of sedition, saying repealing it altogether can have serious adverse ramifications for the security and integrity of the country. The Commission has recommended enhancing the jail term in sedition cases from a minimum of three years to seven years, contending that it would allow the courts greater room to award punishment in accordance with the scale and gravity of the act committed.

In a report on the ‘Usage of the Law of Sedition’, the Commission said its earlier report had termed the punishment for Section 124A (law of sedition) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) “very odd” as it has provisions for either life imprisonment or a three-year jail term, but nothing in between. The minimum punishment under the sedition law is paying fine.

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code dealing with sedition is at present under abeyance following directions of the Supreme Court issued in May, 2022.

Singhvi said in a terrible, tragic, and treacherous development, the law commission has recommended that Section 124A of the IPC should “not only be retained, but also made more harsh”.

“The BJP government now plans to become more draconian, drastic, and deadly than the colonial regime,” he said.

In an unpleasing development, the 22nd Law Commission of India has recommended that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which criminalises sedition, should be retained in the statute book with certain and more “draconian changes”, Singhvi said.

“In a nutshell, the law commission proposal makes the existing sedition law far more draconian, invasive and prejudicial by enhancing the lower end of the punishment from three to seven years,” he said.

It ignores the spirit of the Supreme Court proceedings in May and October last year which had rendered the entire offense of sedition in the country inoperative and clearly intended it to be repealed, Singhvi alleged.

The Congress leader claimed that there was a “massive rise” in sedition cases since 2014 with an annual rise of 28 per cent in sedition cases for the period between 2014 and 2020, compared to the yearly average between 2010 and 2014.

Singhvi said 12 sedition cases were filed during the pandemic against those who raised concerns over lack of ventilators, food distribution or handling of the issue of migrant labourers.

“In total, 21 sedition cases were filed against journalists. Since 2018, they have been arrested for reportage on the farm laws, COVID-19, the Hathras gang rape, citizenship and for being critical of the government,” he said.

Singhvi also said 27 sedition cases were filed against those who protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 and the National Register for Citizens, while eight cases were filed against farmers protesting the now revoked farm laws.

Singhvi also cited some sedition cases, which he termed as “draconian”, including those filed across three BJP-ruled states against Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and several senior journalists.

Posing questions to the government, Singhvi asked why it has not yet had the courage to do away with the sedition law despite the apex court rendering it inoperative and making strong observations in that regard.

“Why have the cases of sedition burgeoned during the BJP regime? Is the government misusing it as a tool to curb criticism?” he said.

Is this an initial step towards more stringent curbing of dissent ahead of the general elections, Singhvi asked.

He also questioned as to why have the cases of sedition imposed only on the opposition leaders and dissidents, and how many BJP leaders have been charged under the law.

“Was the reference to the law commission by the Government of India merely a circuitous, circumvention of the true spirit of the Supreme Court observations and intended to legitimise and provide added legal cover to the pernicious concept of sedition?” he said.

Singhvi also asked why the government has not changed its “control freak” style and not been able to shed its colonial mindset.