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The irony is that while Britain has since abolished the antediluvian law, India remains obsessed with this colonial hangover. The sedition law thwarted India’s freedom fighters; Mahatma Gandhi and Lokmanya Tilak were convicted under the draconian law, which is a cognisable offense. The convictions under the law are low, but the real purpose is to create the “chilling effect”, the fear of a midnight knock at the door. Ask Disha Ravi, Munawar Faruqui, Anurag Kashyap, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, Siddique Kappan, Dr Kafeel Khan, the Bhima-Koregaon activists. It is true that even the Congress has flagrantly abused these statutes in the past based on its political expediency. Which is why I congratulate you for criticising the Emergency aberration. However, even after 44 years the Congress easily gets shanghaied by BJP’s Emergency attack, appearing like a lame duck to its whataboutery. The party needs to tell the people that 22 months of official subversion of fundamental rights was wrong, but was ethically superior to 82 months (and continuing) unofficial Emergency that is imperceptible, stealthy, and has led to creeping debilitation of India’s institutions. Sec 124 is used to essentially frighten potential dissenters. A new database by Article 14 showed that as many as 96% of sedition cases filed against 405 Indians were for criticising politicians and government after 2014, and most of them were in BJP-ruled states. Those at the receiving end include renowned journalists, civil society activists, public intellectuals, authors, students etc. The Congress needs to rediscover Mahatma Gandhi’s ability for mass mobilisation and unyielding peaceful protests. Saving a democracy is never easy.India faces a democratic deconsolidation. You must undo what the Congress itself failed to do earlier. But it is never too late. It is time for the Grand Old Party to bat on the front-foot. And as Virat Kohli recently demonstrated in a T20 match against England, it might help to open the batting. At stake is the future of the world’s largest democracy on the brink.I wish you luck.
(The writer is former Congress Spokesperson)
Source: Economic Times