The sedition charge slapped on JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar triggered an all-out political war between the BJP government and the opposition parties, besides evoking strong reactions from across the country. HT’s Navneet Sharma caught up with former Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee, an eminent jurist, who was in Chandigarh on Saturday at a training programme of lawyers. Excerpts from the interview:
From Rohith Vemula’s suicide to the Jat stir, how do you see the heightened friction in India?
India is a vibrant democracy. I do not think it is heading towards destruction. This is what happens in such a multifarious society with divergent views...The question is this no one likes criticism, but it is essential for the working of a government. A government if it does not have critics is doomed to fail
What are your views on sedition charges in the JNU row?
Supreme Court made it very clear that criticism of the government, however vigorous, even if ill-informed, comments made on the administration, however pungent, is not sedition. But they demitted the application of the section to acts or speech or writings which affect public order or constitute incitement to violence... Unfortunately, the mentality of the people is anything said against the government is sedition... To my mind, the mere raising of slogans is not sedition.
There are reports about ‘anti-India slogans’ such as “Bharat ki barbaadi tak’ in JNU
Who said it? When did he say it? It has to be established in a court of law. Mind you, you must make allowance in the context, circumstances. Apna country mein toh (In our country,) everyone says so and so zindabad, murdabad. Take it in context. Don’t be hyper-sensitive. But if it goes to that nature where someone says cut India into pieces... that certainly would amount to sedition.
What action could be taken against these lawyers?
Three things, first, the bar council will take action against them... second, the high court itself may take action. Best thing is, and we have moved a petition, SC should take action against them because it appointed a committee... This virus has to be nipped in the bud, has to be eliminated.
There is a feeling that freedom of expression is under siege in the country. What is your view?
Who prevented the citizens from criticising the government? Those who have criticised the government have they been put in jail as was done during the Emergency? Tell me, those who returned awards against intolerance and those speaking daily against government, have they been penalised or faced any consequences? Even a person like (Arvind) Kejriwal calls the PM a ‘psychopath’, ‘coward’, ‘liar’. This is in bad taste, but nobody has taken any action against him... What intolerance is there? I can’t understand.