Senior Congress leader and party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s article on sedition and free speech has appeared in the latest edition of pro-RSS journal ‘Organiser’.
Singhvi has termed it as a “victory of Indian Constitution”, the fact that the journal repeatedly approached him and he finally agreed to write for it. The Congress leader makes a strong case for free speech while referring to freedom of expression and sedition as being “strange bedfellows”.
In his article, he cautions against overuse of the sections on sedition in the IPC and goes on to acknowledge as “reprehensible” the recent controversial utterances by AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi. But, he adds that even those utterances don’t qualify as sedition.
“Certainly, I as much as most of you may neither wish to speak what Kanhaiya spoke, nor do it in a manner/form or occasion as was done by Omar Khalid or Binayak Sen or indeed Owaisi. “Some of their utterances are truly reprehensible (example Owaisi) or disagreeable in content or form. But that does not make them seditious. The Constitution does not deny them the right to air it just like it does not prevent me or you from opposing their viewpoint and content as vigorously as we like. “This is what makes us different from Pakistan and each one of our South Asian neighbors,” Singhvi said.
Owaisi had recently triggered a political storm by refusing to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. Singhvi also justifies the step of a Congress leader writing for a pro-RSS publication, saying this too “evidences the power of free speech.” “As I write this at the repeated request of the publishers, I am struck by a delicious irony. I overcame my initial hesitation and early refusal of the magazine’s request on the ground that fundamental principles of free speech — the topic invited by the publishers — itself obliges me to write in a magazine with which I usually disagree and whose managing organisation I frequently criticise. “But it is the victory of the Indian Constitution that I have been asked repeatedly, that I agreed and that I am attempting to alter an alternative viewpoint strongly held by the Organisation and publishers running this magazine!” Singhvi says in the article in the ‘Organiser’.
Singhvi goes on to cite important judicial verdicts on sedition including how even the most offensive remarks (’Khalistan Zindabad’) “didn’t qualify” as a seditious act in the eyes of courts. “Sedition is a serious crime with a draconian maximum punishment of life imprisonment. Unless interpreted with minimum in-built safeguards and restrictions of having to prove a clear possibility of disorder, incitement and violence, the broad words of the section would permit an enormous amount of subjectivity and completely destroy free speech while allowing the authorities to selectively and subjectively target dissenters with severe punishment,” Singhvi says.
He also refers to the BJP-generated debate on nationalism saying, “nationalism is not something which can be injected, manufactured or given as a handout. Nationalism must arise within the heart and soul of every individual through a sense of co-ownership of democracy, through a feeling of inclusion. Neither breast-beating nor hysterical demonstrations of loyalty nor subjective punishment under draconian penal provisions or dialectic sermons nor punitive enforcement will ever create either a climate or a culture of nationalism.”