The Congress stance on sedition reveals what it is wrong with the party

The Congress manifesto for 2019 has made proved one thing for sure- The Indian National Congress is no longer centre-left, it’s progression to the far-left is complete with the party heading that way recklessly. Its manifesto reads like a regurgitation of traditional socialist ideas with one particular campaign promise grabbing eyeballs.

Under one of the manifesto’s section titled “Sushasan— Good Governance Through Independent and Accountable”, the Congress party promises to “omit Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. This has typically been a stance of the Left parties. However, ever since the 2016 JNU saga unfurled, the Congress has abandoned its previous stance on it and moved on to what is politically glamorous position against the sedition law.

Section 124A of the IPC basically defines sedition and provides explanations as to what is and what is not sedition. Disaffection, as mention in the Section , covers disloyalty and feeling of enmity. However, comments that disapprove of the government that do not attempt to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection is not sedition.

The Congress’s pledge to repeal the law is deeply flawed due to two reasons- lack of reasons to repeal Section 124A and its past record on the issue.

The Congress manifesto simply states that the party will “omit” Section 124A that they claim is being misused and is redundant. Both these arguments have flaws. Mere misuse or the possibility of its misuse of a law is not enough grounds to repeal any law. There are plenty of laws that are being misused in India but that doesn’t mean that they must all be repealed. Further, the Congress offers no examples of these “successive laws” that make Section 124A “redundant”.

It must also be noted that the Congress has no substantial reason to call for its repeal. The constitutionality of the sedition law has been upheld by the Supreme Court in the past, most importantly in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar (Fun fact: Kedar Nath Singh was charged with sedition for criticising the Congress). It is ironical that the Congress that opposed the Triple Talaq Bill which criminalised a practice banned by the SC, would today seek the repeal of a Section in the IPC that has been held constitutional by the very same SC. Moreover, there have been Law Commissions in the past that looked into the matter with the most recent one suggesting a reassessment of the law. None of the Commissions called for an outright abolition.

An entire article can be dedicated to simply illustrate how the Congress, in stark contrast to its current stance, has been actively using the law when they were in power. The UPA government holds an unmatchable record of having filed 8,000 sedition cases. And can anybody forget Aseem Trivedi, the anti-corruption cartoonist who was also charged with sedition in 2012? Oh wait, the Congress can forget about him while they proclaim they stand for free speech. Did P. Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal who today brand themselves as critics of the sedition law do anything at all to repeal the law when they held important portfolios in the government? Nope.

The Congress’ proposal to the sedition law is merely the easier way out of a more complex problem. Instead of seeking ways to prevent misuse of the provision by overenthusiastic law enforcers, suggesting ways to improve the definition of sedition or to clearly lay out guidelines as to when an individual can be charged with sedition, the party has simply called for the repeal of the sedition law. This only shows the lack of talent within the party that prevents it from looking at an issue through the prism of rationality.

If anything, this shows that the Congress has lost all sense of ideology. They don’t have a set of fixed principles that they would fight for. Instead, they have an ever-changing bunch of thoughts that are in demand in the political market and this they pass of as their “ideology”, only for them to be discarded in the next election season.

But this doesn’t really come as a surprise. The party President was after all a vocal supporter of those “expressing their dissent” against the government in JNU and has an ex-AISA for a political adviser. With the recent manifesto being released, it is only becoming clear that the Congress has no sense of responsibility in its actions, only a perverse desire to get back in power.

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