The Narendra Modi-led government on Wednesday told Parliament that the sedition law was a broad-brush measure and needed a review, a month after the arrest of Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ union leader Kanhaiya Kumar on charges of treason, leading to a political outcry.
“Anybody who speaks against the government can be booked under sedition law. Amendments have been suggested because the definition is very wide. That is why concerns have been raised,” minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju said in the Rajya Sabha.
Home minister Rajnath Singh said the government would call a meeting of all parties to discuss the matter after the Law Commission, which is already reviewing the applicability of the sedition provision, submits its recommendations.
Opposition members said the sedition provision law needed to be thrown out. “This law should go,” Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav told the House. The Communist Party of India’s D Raja called the sedition provision a “relic”.
The Indian Penal Code’s Section 124-A deals with sedition cases. It says “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” can face a life term.
The Supreme Court has interpreted that only speech that amounts to “incitement to imminent lawless action” can be treated as seditious.
Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said given its wide definition, “half of the parties of the country will be anti-national if there is a ban on speaking against the government”.
Singh agreed to an all-party discussion on the matter after the Law Commission, the top panel that reviews laws from time to time, submits its report. The government, however, rejected the Opposition charges that it was recklessly charging people with sedition.
Rijiju said the Law Commission, in its 42nd report, had said the sedition provision was “defective”. However, the panel did not recommend scrapping it.
“We are in cent percent agreement with the view of the Leader of Opposition that there should be tough action against those creating communal divide. Standing in this House, I appeal to all state governments to take tough action against those trying to wage communal divides,” the home minister said.