Ravish Kumar opened his Prime Time show with an insightful view on Nationalism. Translated from Hindi and summarised, that sentiment would be:
A person who has never read about it or is oblivious to the concept, claims to know everything about it.
Indeed, this view aptly reflects the present chaos on nationalism in the country.
The back story
Recently, the President of the JNU Students’ Union, Kanhaiya Kumar, was arrested on the alleged charge of sedition. He apparently glorified the conspirator of 2001 Parliament attack Afzal Guru.
Also, several other anti-national and separatist slogans were supposedly made. Allegedly, these involved “the unflinching resolve to avenge the killing of Afzal Guru” and “waging a war until the freedom of Kashmir from India.”
Obviously then, sensing an apparent threat to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the “true patriots” of our nation came onto the streets. They brandished their banners and waved the national flag, demanding the shutdown of JNU.
Why? Because it breeds such “seditionists”. That’s like saying, “Let’s kill this cow because the milkman has added too much water in the milk.” The thuggish mob (which included lawyers) unleashed vigilante violence against students, teachers and journalists alike.
The truth uncovered so far
No evidence has yet been found against the accused. Neither have those people been identified who were shouting the anti-national slogans.
In this fine specimen of political oratory, the accused gives a brilliant leftist political speech, highlighting the ills that plague our society. The whole speech clearly underlines his firm commitment to the Constitution of India and his trust in the democratic pillars of the State.
The speech was made merely two days before the aforementioned incident. Two days! I have never seen a person change his political views so fast and so dramtically in such short a span of time. Unless, of course, Loki was involved with the Tessaract. I don’t know about you, but to me that seems highly unlikely.
What does the Law say?
Article 19 (2) of the Constitution imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the Right to free speech and expression in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India and public order and morality, among other things.
Talking about the ills of our society doesn’t affect the sovereignty of our nation, even as a peaceful gathering is not a threat to public order or morality.
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code says that ‘Sedition’ would constitute words […] which bring into hatred or contempt, the government.
However, in Kedar Nath vs State of Bihar (1962) the Supreme Court has unambiguously held that for the offence of sedition to be satisfied, there has to be a causal relationship between speech and acts of violence, and mere words indicating disaffection against the state will not constitute the offence.
Free speech or Sedition in other Democracies
A debate at the Oxford University in 1933 passed a motion on ‘This house will in no circumstances fight for its King and country.’ This move sent shock waves throughout Britain and the students were denounced as anti-nationals and communist sympathisers. But no one was arrested for sedition.
The referendum in the UK for a separate Scottish nation, advocated by the Scottish National Party, did not make its leaders seditionists.
Similar demands for a separate Quebec province in Canada and a state of Catalonia in Spain did not make their respective governments jail the non-violent secessionists.
However, the free societies do crack down hard on those using or inciting violence — on terrorists seeking to create an independent Basque territory in the north Spain and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Britain.
The point is this: free societies see peaceful pursuits for a revolutionary change — even secession — as legitimate democratic demand.
Who is really National or Anti-national?
SA Aiyar rightly says, “The notion that there can be only one concept of what constitutes a nation, and that every other view is anti-national, is intellectually empty at best and authoritarian at worst.”
We Indians always take pride in being the largest democracy in the world. But we really can’t remain tolerant toward others’ views, and take no time in branding dissent as sedition.
A student was adjudged a “traitor” by a mob, even before he could be scrutinized before a court of law. Is denying the accused his constitutional right to fair trial and the Due Process, truly Nationalism?
It was even worse to see that he was assaulted (punished) for a crime still unproven, on the doorstep of the temple of Judiciary by some self-proclaimed “patriotic” lawyers. Does it behove the practitioners of Law to take law into their hands and punish an accused who is an innocent until proven guilty?
Despite the Supreme Court ruling, people are being arrested on charges of sedition for expressing their opinion. Hasn’t the court made it clear that even disaffection against the State, if it does not incite violence, shall not attract charges of sedition? And yet the clause has been politically manipulated to muzzle free speech. It has been done in the past, is being done at present and it shows no signs of abetting in the foreseeable future.
The attack on the journalists marked another black day of democracy. In protest, NDTV Prime Time turned its video black, and the whole programme was run in audio mode only.
A convenient philosophy
It is true that the Constitution provides for limitations to free speech. But, who has made the blood-thirsty mob the interpreter and the guardian of the Constitution?
If the prevailing notion of nationalism is adhered to, then the anti-India slogans, which are a daily feature of the complex political situation in Kashmir, would make almost every Kashmiri a traitor.
Even the ruling BJP has formed a government in coalition with the PDP of Kashmir, who has officially held Afzal Guru as a martyr. Why doesn’t this act of allying with a party, who has brazenly advocated anti-nationalism, make the BJP an anti-national party?
A few important questions
- Why doesn’t such incidents urge the people of India to think what they are doing or letting others do?
- Till what time will the silent majority remain silent?
- Do we always need a bigger national catastrophe for self-introspection?
- Is it too difficult to differentiate between a peaceful protest and a violent one?
- Is peaceful dissent against the prevailing notion of nationalism, sedition?
These are important questions that demand clear answers, because these are the fundamental qualities that separate us from, or make us, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, or Communist China and North Korea.
The charge of sedition on Kanhaiya Kumar is a charge of sedition on free thinking and peaceful expression. It took almost seven decades and a generation of leaders to rally a nation-wide struggle against the oppressive Colonialists. I wonder how long will it take for a free people to defend their hard-won freedom and let the concept of freedom evolve?
Edited by Amit Srivatsa