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In a “historic” ruling, the Supreme Court of India, stayed the sedition law and kept it in abeyance till the government of India makes it stand clear on whether it wants the sedition law to exist, or to be repealed. Indeed, this ruling yesterday has wider ramifications not only for the hundreds of Indians languishing in jail as the sedition law is a non available offence, but also for the future of how the State (both the Central and State) would deal with issues related to protest and unrest in the country. For instance, of late, it has become common to “book” anyone and everyone under the sedition law on any count, without batting an eyelid. This ruling, if enforced, would help the Indian youth, who as I wrote earlier, need jobs, and not jails!! In other words, the sedition law and its possible repeal would impact India’s youth more than anybody else as over the last decade or so, this segment was the most affected by the sedition law.
Having said that, we must not have high hopes as it is only a matter of time before the law in the present form or in some other form, would return as otherwise the state loses a key weapon to suppress those it believes are acting against the nation. Indeed, this was the case with the repeal of the TADA a decade or so ago, as it was reinstated in another avatar, that of the UAPA. So, my guess is that the sedition law would make a comeback pretty soon. Of course, until then, the fears of a “crackdown” on the dissidents and others deemed anti national would hopefully cease. On the other hand, this law is also needed to check the very real prospect of genocidal elements taking the law into their own hands and hence, it is entirely possible that the Supreme Court, would “modify” its ruling. So, essentially I would advise all those celebrating to hold their drinks and sober up to the reality of the present.
However, despite all this caution, the ruling is a “first” as the Supreme Court at least agreed to hear the petitions challenging the constitutionality of the sedition law. This is indeed a significant victory for all those who have been waging an often lonely battle to get the sedition law repealed. Moreover, as the Solicitor General submitted before the court, the rethink on the sedition law and the possible repeal is something that even Nehru could not do and so, the present moment can be considered historic. For a country that has been labelled as a “land of Million Mutinies”, where the subterranean undercurrents against the state are all too very real and threatening, there are some merits in having the sedition law, though the issue that is to be debated is the way in which it is “applied” to anyone and everyone deemed anti national.
This is more the reason why there needs to a wider debate on the sedition law as otherwise, lawlessness from any side of the political and social spectrum would become the norm. Already the pandemic has led to an uptick in crime and social disorder and the very real threat of the “breakdown of the social contract” means that the State does need some sort of a weapon in its everyday fight to prevent violence and unrest. After all, we live in a world that needs laws and their proper enforcement, if we need to live in harmony with each other. Of course, the real issue that is to be debated is the provision of non available sections as well as the alacrity with which this law has been used against everyone and anyone. So, there is definitely more to it than meets the eye here, as far as the developments of the last two to three days are concerned.
On the other hand, the persistent inability of the political elites to move away from living in denial and accept the changes that are needed appear to be softening as a rethink of the sedition law is very much indicative of a “change of heart”. However, these are early days yet, and I expect some movement in the next day or two on what the actual stand of the government is. Another reason why we need a reality check is that the nation exists because of the notions of nationhood and hence, irrespective of the party in power, laws such as the one dealing with sedition usually are supported across party lines. The risk and the opposition to the sedition law from civil society is its misuse and the potential for just locking up anyone and everyone whom the state deems as being a threat.
On balance, it does appear as though there has been some sort of thought on how we need to go about dealing with anarchists and how this is remniscent of the TADA repeal that evoked similar memories, which were dashed by the UAPA enactment. So, while we are searching for some positivity in these times, let us also question our assumptions on what constitutes sedition and waging war against the state, and what is permissible and allowed and what is not!! Let the debates begin and the arguments commence on what can be a “turning point” in the trajectory of the country as future generations would either owe it to us or lament our inability to agree and arrive at a consensus on the balance between what is lawful and what is lawless!!