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A sudden outpouring of reverence for Sant Ravidas

Had the birth anniversary of Sant Ravidas not come during the elections in five states, would it have attracted so much hype and attention?

Surendra Kumar

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Sant Ravidas (1450-1520) was a great spiritual leader, social reformer, and poet of the Bhakti movement who fought against caste and gender-based discrimination and worked for the upliftment of the downtrodden. He is fondly revered by the Ravidasi community in Punjab Haryana, Delhi, UP, Rajasthan, MP, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. Though born in an untouchable family (leather makers), on account of his spiritual teachings and visits to several religious places, he earned huge respect even among the non-Dalit population. Several of his devotional verses have been included in the Adi Guru Granth Saheb. He is believed to have met the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak Saheb, and is respected by millions of Sikhs. Every year, his birthday is celebrated in several states most by the people of the lower castes through bhajan, kirtan, aarati and langar. Compared to the Gurpurab (birthday of Guru Nanak) and Prakash Parv ( birthday of Guru Gobind Singh) it’s a low-key affair. The Governments at the Centre and in states don’t get too excited about it and the leading TV channels bursting with breaking news and the print media carrying screaming headlines on the front page from the speeches of the high and the mighty pay scanty attention. But not this year.

Normally, the milk of human kindness flows out when we are moved beyond words by what we see or hear.It is a natural reaction triggered off by our emotions and sentiments. There is nothing artificial or fake about it. It brings us near to each other as human beings. It’s part of compassion. According to HH the Dalai Lama, the world can’t survive without compassion.

But this year, Sant Ravidas’s anniversary on 16th February has witnessed a virtual downpour of tributes and expression of reverence as never before. State governments were vying with each other and trying to outdo each other in demonstrating their respect and admiration for the saint who lived more than 500 years ago. Many national dailies, on his anniversary, carried paid advertisements carrying catchy tag lines. While the advertisement of the Haryana government called hi Sant Shiromani, Kejriwal’s advertisement hailed Sant Ravidas as “Sant Parampara ke Mahan Yogi Aur Param Gyani!” Punjab CM, Channi flew to Govardhan in Varanasi to pay his tributes to the Iconic Saint. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka paid their obeisance and served langar at Goverdhan.

PM Narendra Modi not only visited Shri Guru Ravidas Vishram Dham in Karol Bagh but enthusiastically participated in Bhajan kirtan; he sat down with the devotees and was seen playing Jkeeka in tune with gusto. In his election rallies, he claimed, “We have imbibed the spirit of Guru Ravidas Ji in every step and every scheme of our government.” He was instrumental in the construction of a big complex at Ravi Das’s birthplace at Govardhan.

Other leaders including the Home Minister Shah too made it a point to pay fulsome tributes to the Dalit saint. Expectedly, political leaders uploaded pictures and videos of their participation on social media. For a day, the Dalit community might have been overwhelmed by this sudden outpouring of adulation and admiration for Sant Ravidas.

By supporting heightened hero-worshipping of Ravidas, who espoused Bhakti, the Sangh Parivar might be hoping to draw a large swath of Dalits away from the stridency of Aambedkarites and discourage conversions.

But none seem to ask a simple question: why do the social evils that Sant Ravidas fought against are still continuing? 75 years after independence, in thousands of villages in India, the untouchability is still practiced though it was abolished decades back. Besides the practice of untouchability, Haryana might take the credit for the honour killing and diktas of the Khap Panchayat which award brutal punishment if a low caste man commits the sin of falling in love with a high caste girl. How come, in this age of time, in India, which aspires to be a leading global power, in Haryana, every year there are instances of Dalit bridegrooms being prevented from riding a horse or an elephant in their wedding procession?

Gang Rapes of Dalit girls reminiscent of the horrific Nirabhaya case do take place in UP; the Hathras gang rape case in which the mother of the victim of the rape was prevented from seeing the face of her daughter before her hurried creation past midnight wasn’t a figment of imagination. The film Article 15 graphically and evocatively flagged the heinous crime of rapes that are committed so brazenly and how they are often suppressed with the collusion of the police and the administration, political masters, and the rich and influential rural Bahubalis.

Had the birth anniversary of Sant Ravidas not fallen during the elections in five states, would it have attracted so much hype and attention? Aren’t extensive photo ops splashed on social media by various parties’ desperate attempts at convincing the Dalit communities how much they cared for them? This phenomenon underlines the significance of the votes of the Dalit community on account of their numerical strength, especially in closely contested elections.

But isn’t naïve to assume that Dalit voters are swayed by such superfluous tokenism which evaporates at the end of the voting date? The same leaders who so fervently try to woo them during the elections seldom visit them again and most of their basic problems remain unresolved.

Does the manifesto of any political party lay down a time-bound action plan to put an end to untouchability? Does it commit to bringing down drastically the attacks against the Dalit community which, for the last few years, according to the NCBR, stood at around 47000 per annum? When every 15 minutes, a woman is raped, how much more needs to be done in the campaign, “beti bachao, beti padhao?”

The vast majority of the MNREGA beneficiaries are Dalits. This doesn’t accord them a dignified life but helps them stay alive. The midday meal is the only meal millions of Dalit children get to eat every day. These schemes ought to be improved, revitalized, and expanded plugging financial leakages but not diluted. Providing dignified gainful employment is the long-term answer.

Many Civil societies tirelessly work to help and empower the Dalit Communities; they should be encouraged; every one of them isn’t an enemy of the state.

Fulfilling Gandhi’s dream of wiping off tears from the cheeks of the poor and Sant Ravidas’s dream of putting an end to untouchability and providing dignity, respect, protection to Dalit Communities is a serious business; it can’t be achieved by occasional tokenism!

Aren’t extensive photo ops splashed on social media by various parties’ desperate attempts at convincing the Dalit communities how much they cared for them? This phenomenon underlines the significance of the votes of the Dalit community on account of their numerical strength, especially in closely contested elections. But isn’t naïve to assume that Dalit voters are swayed by such superfluous tokenism which evaporates at the end of the voting date?

The same leaders who so fervently try to woo them during the elections seldom visit them again and most of their basic problems remain unresolved. Does the manifesto of any political party lay down a time-bound action plan to put an end to untouchability?

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Opinion

‘CHINTA’ ABOUT THE CHINTIN SHIVIR

Priya Sahgal

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There was a lot of hype and coverage around the Congress Party’s introspection meet, or the Chintin Shivir held in Udaipur recently. But let us take a look as to whether this exercise was worth the hype.

Yes on paper decisions were taken. Such as the one to deny more than one ticket (to contest elections) to members of the same family. This was immediately watered down with a proviso – unless the second family member has spent five years working in the organisation. This gives a clean chit to all the three Gandhi family members, and most other families as well. Conditions were also laid down to reserve representation of youth (50 percent under 50) in the CWC, as well as reservations for Dalits, minorities, and tribals. This, in a sense, is to bring back the umbrella coalition that was the hallmark of Congress. Of late, this is a vote bank that has deserted the Congress in favour of regional parties, as well as the BJP. The BJP under Prime Minister Modi has been aggressively wooing the OBCs as well as the tribals with its pro-poor schemes. A sizeable chunk of Muslim women also voted for the party not just for its subsidies and ujjwala schemes but also for progressive legislations like banning Triple Talaq. If the Modi government brings in the UCC then this will further attract the Muslim women vote.

The Congress leadership has realised that it needs to win back the traditional vote bank of the Congress and remould it back to its socialist, secular moorings instead of competing with the BJP on a capitalist, Hindu platform. It has to go back to the Congress of Nehru and Indira instead of competing with the BJP of Modi and Shah. Given that the BJP is arguing that it is now time to remove the words socialist and secular from our Constitution will this gambit have any takers in Modi’s India. (Last week in an interview to ITV Network, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma argued that while socialism has been rejected worldwide, the word secularism too should be dropped as India has always been secular— not in the western meaning of the word, but ‘dharam nirpeksh’. So where was the need to state the obvious, argues Sarma.) This is a cry that will be picked up by other BJP leaders as well. The Congress of Indira and Nehru was not the Congress of Rao and Manmohan. The aspiring middle class was not its vote bank, but it was in the poor and the backwards. Can Rahul walk the party back a few decades?

Certainly, his over 3000 km long Bharat Jodo yatra is aiming to do that. My concern about Rahul Gandhi is not that he will not be able to undertake the strenuous walk. He will do it for he knows that this could well be his last chance to reinvent himself. He will also be able to undertake the physical rigours better than any other Congress leader because he has kept himself physically fit. My concern is whether Rahul will be able to make an emotional connect with the people from Kashmir to Kanyakumari that he encounters on the way. Rahul’s main problem has been the lack of an emotional connect with the rest of India. Maybe it’s due to his slightly formal, westernised mannerisms, but whatever the reason, Rahul does not come across as a spontaneous, instinctive leader, and the public can sense that. The first thing Rahul should do is throw away his mobile when he embarks on this yatra for he needs no distractions.

The other shift at the Chintin Shivir was the prominence given to other Congress leaders and not just members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Apart from hoardings of Nehru, Rajiv, and Indira there were also hoardings of BR Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Subash Chandra Bose, Abdul Kalam Azad, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Sarojini Naidu, and Mahatma Gandhi. What is even more interesting is that even Narasimha Rao found a mention in a hoarding as did Dr Manmohan Singh. Clearly a much more inclusive outlook than the earlier family focus. And it could not have come soon enough, at a time when the BJP and regional parties are appropriating Congress leadership icons.

And of course, those who were hoping that the Shivir would throw up a leadership alternative were in for some disappointment because the one message that came through loud and clear is that the Gandhis are very much in control with Sonia paving the way for a Rahul Gandhi take over. For all its hype and hoopla the G 23 failed to make an impression (did they even try?) at the Chintan Shivir. The election for party president— whenever it happens— will be a token exercise at best, for it does seem that Rahul Gandhi is firmly in place as the leader of the Congress party, with or without allies.

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Opinion

Yogi Adityanath’s secularism has quelled India’s ‘minorityism’

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister seems to be on a mission to dispel common beliefs about the Nehruvian style of secularism that has been adopted by the left for decades.

Yuvraj Pokharna

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The loudspeaker row on Azaan and Hanuman Chalisa— which sparked a national debate on prime time and in political circles, began in Maharashtra with Raj Thackery of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) issuing an ultimatum to the Rana couple sailing on the same boat about the removal of loudspeakers that hung over the minarets of mosques—has now reached Uttar Pradesh.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being presented with an idol of Lord Krishna by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath during the meeting with UP BJP leaders and ministers, in Lucknow on Monday. ANI

“So far, 53,942 loudspeakers have been removed from different holy locations throughout the state till 7 a.m. (Sunday) this morning,” said Prashant Kumar, Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) in Uttar Pradesh. Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, had issued an advisory restricting the volume of loudspeakers within the institution’s premises before this move. The sound level of 60,295 loudspeakers was later decreased by the authorities and brought within normal specifications. As luck would have it, the debate that ensued followed the sectarian violence that erupted in several states during the recent Hindu festivals of Ram Navami and Hanuman Janmotsav, and the subject has been simmering ever since. Raj Thackeray gives Yogi a thumbs up, saying, “In Maharashtra, we don’t have ‘yogis’ in authority; what we have are bhogis (hedonists).”

In reality, numerous courts have noted the following at various times:

1. Supreme Court (2005): In July 2005, the Supreme Court issued an order prohibiting the use of loudspeakers and music systems in public places between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. (except in emergency situations), citing the serious health effects of noise pollution on those who live in such areas.

2. Bombay High Court (2016): The Bombay High Court ruled in August 2016 that utilizing loudspeakers was not a fundamental right. No religion or sect could claim that the capacity to use a loudspeaker or public address system was a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, according to the Bombay High Court.

3. Uttarakhand High Court (2018): “The loudspeakers continue to blare even after 12 a.m.” “The loudspeaker cannot be utilized without proper clearance from the government, including by temples, mosques, and gurdwaras,” according to the court.

4. Karnataka High Court (2021): In January 2021, the state government was instructed to take action against unlawful loudspeakers at religious sites throughout the state by the Karnataka High Court. It ordered the state government to issue immediate orders to the police and the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) to take action against the use of amplifiers and loudspeakers in religious structures, citing noise pollution legislation and Supreme Court judgements as justifications. The state government was then asked by the Karnataka High Court to explain the statutory provisions that enable loudspeakers and public address systems in mosques, as well as what steps are being done to reduce their use by November 2021.

5. Haryana and Punjab High Courts: The Punjab and Haryana High Courts issued an order in July 2019 forbidding the use of loudspeakers in public places, including religious groups. Public address systems should only be used with prior consent, according to the court, and the noise level should never exceed the permitted limit.

Thus, the Uttar Pradesh government has set the ideal example of communal unity and secularism by removing loudspeakers from mosques, temples, and gurudwaras. While it has been extensively debated how India defines, rather, ratifies itself as a “secular nation” but is, in fact, not, Yogi Adityanath seems to be on a mission to dispel common beliefs about the Nehruvian style of secularism that has been adopted by the left for decades. Academics, ideologues, and activists on the left have cleverly labeled and reduced secularism to expressing ugly and slanderous sentiments on Hindus and their cultures, hence demonstrating their “secular credentials” and “solidarity” with India’s minority groups.

Secularism, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “the conviction that religion should not influence or be involved in the structure of society, education, government, or other institutions.” And that is precisely what the Yogi administration is doing, by questioning the established concept of secularism, which is based only on minority appeasement. Neither Vikas Dubey nor Mukhtar Ansari is safe in Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh. The government has reduced the volume of loudspeakers at the Gyanvapi Mosque if loudspeakers are not used during aarti at temples such as Kashi Vishwanath Dham, Kaal Bhairav, Sankatmochan Temple, Durga Temple, and Tulsi Manas Temple in Varanasi.

Yogi Adityanath, the saffron-clad Chief Minister, has made no apologies for his tough stance on crime in Uttar Pradesh, declaring in an interview, “Agar apraadh karenge toh thok diye jayenge” (Criminals would be shot). The Chief Minister’s pet initiative “Operation Clean” has taken the hardest measures against criminals, and the Yogi administration seems to have a tight grip on law and order in the state, with crime rates substantially below the national average. On the occasion of Ram Navami, there was not a single case of communal clashes, rioting, or even violence in Uttar Pradesh, which was once known as the epicenter of riots, despite stone-pelting, violence, arson, and nearly Armageddon by Islamistic Jihadis being witnessed across the length and breadth of India. However, the Indian version of Stockholm syndrome has turned “liberals” into the worst racists, who are eager to destroy all the principles they profess to protect for the greater good. This is the core subject that is being used to sell a misleading story about violence: The Hindus incited local Muslim populations by playing “provocative music” and “raising slogans” while travelling through “Muslim regions”. But liberals must be cautious about spreading this argument since by doing so, they’ve reached the precipice and must realize that their days are numbered. If simply playing music in a religious procession is “provocation” for violent acts to be justified, it is not only a call for Hindus to concede more, confining their religion to private spaces while Muslims are free to pray in public places like roads, but it also encourages Muslims to continue using anarchy as leverage. Since 1947, ‘minorityism’ has been the sine qua non of the Indian polity, a neologism denoting a political system or process in which a minority section of a population enjoys a certain degree of precedence in that entity’s decision-making.

It should come as no surprise that music might be used as a “provocation” for violence. “Another evidence of this attitude of exploitation is supplied by the Muslim demand on cow-slaughter and the stopping of music before mosques,” BR Ambedkar said in a chapter on communal violence. In all Muslim nations, music is permitted to be performed in front of mosques. Even in Afghanistan, which is not a secular nation, no one objects to music playing in front of a mosque. In India, however, the Muslims must insist on its halt for no other reason than the Hindus’ claim to it. In his revile and condemnation of Islam, BR Ambedkar, who was famed for his critique of Hinduism, was all the more blatantly caustic at best and brutally honest at worst. However, it’s ironic that two different treatises by the same man, critiquing two different communities, are read so differently, but they both display the most fascinating cocktail of discrimination and “victim card” we’ve ever seen, where even the onus of violence and arson by Islamists on the auspicious day of Ram Navami is laid at the Hindus’ feet.

“But nowhere was there any tu-tu mainmain (arguments)… much alone rioting and disturbance,” the first UP chief minister to take the oath for a second term remarked at a rally. This exemplifies UP’s new progressive mindset. There is no room for rioting and turmoil here. On the Ram Navami anniversary, UP exhibited this. In fact, the monk CM’s ace in the pack this election was Uttar Pradesh’s well-maintained law and order situation. Aside from Rana Ayyub’s habit of referring to Yogi Adityanath as a “militant Hindu monk,” UP is aggressively courting companies, boasting the lowest crime rates, and upholding religious peace as an ideal state need.

Uttar Pradesh has clearly gone a long way from Mulayam Singh’s notorious “ladke hai galti ho jaati hai”(To err is male) sexist argument against the death penalty for rape, to Yogi Adityanath’s “criminals will be shot” shout!

Academics, ideologues, and activists on the left have cleverly labeled and reduced secularism to expressing ugly and slanderous sentiments on Hindus and their cultures, hence demonstrating their “secular credentials” and “solidarity” with India’s minority groups. Yogi administration is questioning the established concept of secularism, which is based only on minority appeasement. Neither Vikas Dubey nor Mukhtar Ansari is safe in Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh.

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Opinion

THERE MUST BE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE DELHI FIRE INCIDENT

Pankaj Vohra

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The fire that broke out in an illegal factory in the Mundka Village close to the Delhi-Haryana border and claimed at least 27 lives has once again underlined the need for greater accountability. What has to be probed and ascertained is that how was this factory running in the native village of former Chief Minister, the late Sahib Singh Verma, and how did callous officials permit its functioning, knowing fully well that it did not have the required clearances. As always, the blame game has started between the Delhi government controlled by the Aam Aadmi Party and the BJP run, Municipal Corporation. The point here is that whoever is responsible must be identified and punished. Normally speaking the buildings that are constructed need to have the approval of the civic bodies. Whether this particular structure had those pre-requisite permissions must be found out.

The Delhi government has ordered a Magisterial probe while the BJP is demanding an inquiry by a sitting High Court Judge. The issue is that whoever conducts the inquiry would obviously reach the same findings. In the past, there have been incidents from which the authorities have refused to learn. It is only after something horrific happens that the bureaucracy wakes up and cracks the whip. There are a large number of buildings including many in the New Delhi Municipal Council area which do not have the clearances of the Fire Department but are fully functional. Why is this kind of oversight being permitted.

The Delhi Fire service along with the civic agencies and the relevant departments of the Delhi government must have a coordinated approach to the matter. One cannot be risking innocent lives just because the officials have been found napping. In the early 1980s, a major fire had broken out in the multi-storeyed Gopala Towers at Rajendra Place. The Fire department found itself inadequate since it did not have the equipment to tackle high-rise fires. A helicopter was pressed into service to sprinkle water but its rotors fanned the fire, making the rescue operations even more difficult. Subsequently, the government-sanctioned money to the Fire department for the purchase of the Snorkels and Turn Table ladder vehicles for such an eventuality. The Delhi Fire Service is comparatively better equipped than its counterparts in Gurgaon and NOIDA which both have multiple multi-storeyed structures. One cannot but shudder with fear to imagine a scenario if this kind of unfortunate happening was to take place. The Centre and the State must understand that the Emergency services should always be given top priority and kept in the best state of readiness. There is no purpose served if the authorities wake up after many lives have been lost. The Police Control Room vans are always available for emergency assistance but the Fire services and the Ambulances also need to be upgraded to meet any kind of untoward situation. The Mundka fire is a wake-up call which should ensure that the various agencies of the government instead of shifting the blame on each other, come together to have a foolproof solution in the future. The temperatures are soaring and the NCR is a burning furnace. Therefore, more fire incidents may take place. But there has to be preparedness to deal with the situation. A crackdown on structures lacking the permissions must be done without any delay and lives should not be jeopardized because of apathy of the officials.

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Opinion

Can India afford the scrapping of Article 124A?

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Nobody would doubt the intention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to review the Sedition Law (Section 124A), but creating a narrative to say that the law would be scrapped is juvenile. Sections of intelligentsia including judges have argued for review to check its misuse. And the review should not be projected as an exercise to scrap the law.

This Government has no love lost for archaic laws of the British Raj. It has already scrapped more than 1500 such laws from the statutes making the life of an ordinary citizen easier. A similar number of such laws is awaiting to be removed. More than 25,000 compliance burdens have been removed. The symbol of power depicted by red and blue beacon lights has been scrapped for most power structures in the Government including the ministers.

Why the sedition law stays is not a matter of surprise! First Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who was imprisoned by the British and witnessed incarceration of freedom fighters due to misuse of this law saw virtue in bringing restrictions on Article 19 that championed freedom of speech and expression. The very first amendment to the constitution in 1951 was to curb this freedom in the guise of reasonable restrictions. The provision of the constitution of India had become effective from 26 January 1950. The first amendment was made on 18 June 1951.

The provocations were mainly two publications that criticized Nehru on different counts. The first was the Cross Roads magazine which published a series of articles in February 1950 criticizing the Madras government for indiscriminate firing that killed 22 Communist prisoners dead in Salem Central Jail. The State Government banned the circulation and distribution of the magazine. The Second was the Organizer Magazine which criticized the Government’s policy on Pakistan. They were asked to get prior clearance (pre-censorship) before publishing anything on Pakistan policy. The Supreme Court judgements in both cases on 26 May 1950 came against the Central Government. Reasonable restrictions on Fundamental Rights were Nehru’s response to these developments.

Indira Gandhi was unabashedly bold in asserting her authority against adversaries. She made Section 124-A a cognizable offence. Under the new CrPC of 1973, which came into force in 1974, the police could now arrest any person without a warrant. This was more stringent than the provision under the British that mandated a warrant from the magistrate. What was her provocation is not known but she was not liking the way her government was being criticized by the opposition? As a sharp lady who knew no limits to her political ambitions, she wanted to empower herself. She used this law indiscriminately during the Emergency 1975-77 to maim the voice of whoever opposed her government.

The five-judge bench of the Supreme Court in its judgement in the Kedarnath case in 1962 upheld the validity of this law even as it suggested precautionary measures to check its misuse. Kedarnath had accused the Congress of corruption, black marketing and tyranny. The Court held that the purpose of sedition law was to prevent subversion of a lawful government because “the continued existence of the Government established by law is an essential condition of the stability of the State”.

The purpose of Sedition law is to prevent subversion of the State. Let us look at what Section 124A says: “Whoever by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”

This gives wide powers to the Executive to use this provision against any of its critics. Whether one’s words or speech is creating disaffection is a matter of interpretation and subject to the Courts finding it to be valid which again is subject to interpretation depending upon the conscience of the Judge. The Supreme Court has said there must be “incitement to violence” or “disruption of public order”. What can incite violence in a country ridden with conflict and diversity is a matter or subjective interpretation.

Nehru was opposed to invoking the law of sedition but he did not do anything to remove the law from the statute. Even those who believed in his ideology found the law to be useful to tackle dissent. In recent times, sedition cases were lodged against 9000 people in 2012 when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by Congress was in power at the Centre. P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal, who are vociferously advocating scrapping of sedition law were Home Minister and Law Minister respectively during the UPA regime. The agenda to scrap figured in 2019 in the Congress manifesto and not before that.

People were agitating in 2012 against the setting up of nuclear power plant at Kudankulam (Tamil Nadu). A fact-finding committee of independent people had documented that FIRs were lodged against 55,795 people for participating in the agitation. While close to 23,000 people were arrested, about 9000 were booked under Section 124A. The reason was “waging war against the Government of India”.

The sedition clause has indeed been used by the Modi Government as well. But the Government has been facing unheard-of opposition by vested interests backed by political forces that have lost out in the race for power. For example, what should the Government do if some vested interests come and opposed a law passed by both houses of parliament? The anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) had no basis and was based on speculation and supported by vested interests.

Not only there was an attempt to subvert a democratically elected Government’s right to legislate, but there was also a disturbance to public order since people came on the busy streets and not at designated protest sites to lodge their opposition. The same was the case with the issue of Triple Talaq. Should the Government not look at the ISI and Khalistan connection of the farmers’ agitation that shamed the country by its attack on the Lal Quila? Is mobocracy going to be the new norm in the name of democracy?

Modi has never criticized dissent. Also, criticism of the Prime Minister or various ministers and the Government’s policies never falls in the category of sedition. But if there is a conspiracy to weaken the country by presenting an image that damages our pride, the Government cannot sit idle. While anger or frustration must find a vent, it should not lead to becoming tools in the hand of anti-India forces. This is here that the law of sedition is important.

The misuse of law was evident when Rana couples in Maharashtra were jailed for threatening to recite Hanuman Chalisa in front of the chief minister’s residence. How can the chanting of Hanuman Chalisa disturb peace in a country where every Muslim knows the culture and tradition of the country. Similarly, how can a tweet by Tajinder Singh Bagga against Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal become the ground for a sedition FIR? Intolerance of Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, has also found expression in lodging sedition FIR against critics.

The BJP too has its share of sedition cases. But such cases have not been lodged due to personal reasons or in acts of vendetta. Choices of abuse have been hurled by losers at Prime Minister Modi. These have not become the reason for any sedition FIR. It is only when someone shouted a slogan against the country’s unity or supported terrorism in Kashmir or Naxalism in other parts of the country that the cases have been lodged. Bhima Koregaon case is an example. There were provocative slogans and caste riots as a result of those slogans. The cases were not lodged due to animosities or political reasons.

People talk of the Disha Ravi case. She may be given the benefit of the doubt. But is it not true that she had been a part of the toolkit meant to support farmers’ agitation and defame the Government? Was Disha Ravi not aware that she was doing the wrong thing by aligning with Greta Thunberg who was also a tool of international operators sitting in Canada? Activist Yogendra Yadav has accepted that their job was to create a pitch to bring down the Yogi government in Uttar Pradesh but the batting was to be done by Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav. Will it not come under sedition?

The Leftist echo system is such that they can make louder noise because of their presence in media and elsewhere. But this is good since this would allow everyone to have a fresh look at the sedition law. And the best is it is coming at a time when the country is celebrating Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsava on completing 75 years of the country’s independence. The Prime Minister has demonstrated that he is committed to reforms.

“The Honourable Prime Minister believes that at a time when our nation is marking ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ (75 years since Independence), we need to, as a nation, work even harder to shed colonial baggage that has passed its utility, which includes outdated colonial laws and practices,” the government affidavit before the Apex Court said. The Court has also quoted extensively from the government’s affidavit and has shown appreciation to balance individual liberty with the country’s security concerns.

But those who are trying to create momentum for the scrapping of the law would be in for surprise. The country is against misuse and rightly so. While putting the law on hold, the Supreme Court said: “There is a requirement to balance both sets of considerations (security interests and civil liberties), a difficult exercise. The case of the petitioners is that this provision of law dates back to 1898, pre-dating the Constitution itself, and is being misused. The attorney general had also, on an earlier date of hearing, given some instances of glaring misuse of this provision, like in the case of recital of Hanuman Chalisa”.

The conviction rate under sedition law is indeed very less. It is also true that in most cases the law becomes a political tool to harass adversaries. But is scrapping the law the solution? Will it not be like throwing the baby out with bathwater? With the proliferation of social media, we have seen what it is capable of doing. If there is no fear there would be no disincentive to become a tool in the hands of breaking India forces. If some people are trying to break India and campaign actively for its disintegration, should it not fall under sedition? If some people try to defame the Indian army to damage its reputation, should it not fall in the category of sedition?

Is it not true that the country has witnessed the Partition and the wounds of partition is refusing to die? If the country gives asylum to Hindus and other persecuted minorities from Pakistan and Bangladesh and some vested interests oppose it as a part of a design to undermine the government, should it not fall within the category of sedition? The country has witnessed violent revolts against the Indian State whether in the North East, the Naxal belt of Central India, and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Whether supporters of these divisive movements should not be booked under sedition?

Having a view of these issues is one thing but becoming a tool to strengthen these movements is another. The Indian State is the combined will of those who cherish liberal values and believe in democracy. Should their trust in the State be thwarted just to please certain sections of the society out to destroy the very fabric? This is the issue any review should undertake seriously.

Laws are made with the best of intentions. But when laws get misused, checks and balances are created as per the situation that evolves. The sedition law also needs a similar look. An example is 498A. The law was enacted with the best of intentions to given justice to women folks. Soon it became a tool of exploitation due to false cases being lodged causing a lot of hardship to families. The Court intervened and came up with guidelines to check its misuse.

The writer is the author of “Narendra Modi: the GameChanger”. A former journalist, he is a member of BJP’s media relations department and represents the party as spokesperson while participating in television debates. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

The sedition law: Congress versus BJP

PM Modi’s historic decision to seek a re-examination of the archaic sedition law qualifies as a transformative moment in the quest for the fine balance between free speech and national security.

Sanju Verma

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In a significant development, the Modi government told the Supreme Court via an affidavit on May 9, 2022, that it has decided to re-examine and reconsider Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which criminalises the offence of sedition (SG Vombatkere vs Union of India). “The government of India being fully cognizant of various views being expressed on the subject of sedition and also having considered the concerns of civil liberties and human rights, while committed to maintain and protect the sovereignty and integrity of this great nation, has decided to reexamine and reconsider the provisions of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which can be done only before the competent forum,” the affidavit said.

The affidavit was filed in response to a batch of petitions challenging the constitutionality of the colonial provision. In the affidavit, the Modi government requested the Supreme Court not to invest its time in examining the validity of Section 124-A for the time being and to await the exercise of reconsideration being undertaken by the government of India.

The Supreme Court had while issuing notice in the matter in July 2021 questioned the Central government on whether the law was needed 75 years after independence. The Court had also sought the assistance of the Attorney General in the matter. The Court is currently considering whether the matter should be referred to a Constitution Bench of five or more judges. This is in view of the 1962 verdict of the top Court in Kedar Nath Singh versus the State of Bihar, in which a 5-judge Constitution Bench upheld the validity of Section 124-A. The current case before the apex Court is being heard by a 3-judge Bench. The Central government’s second senior-most law officer, Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta had earlier filed a note before the Court stating that the Kedar Nath Singh judgment has stood the test of time and was applied till date in tune with modern constitutional principles. The SG pointed out that only a bench of co-equal strength of Kedar Nath Singh can therefore pose any doubts on the verdict.

Beyond the semantics, it is to the Modi government’s credit that over 1500 outdated laws and over 25000 archaic compliance burdens that reeked of a colonial mindset have been scrapped since May 2014, when PM Modi stormed to power. Various offences which were causing mindless hindrances to people have been de-criminalised, including many sections of the Company Law. The Modi government, contrary to what jaded Leftist historians peddle, has always been open to both criticism and scrutiny. On sedition, concerns of civil liberties and human rights’ activists have been taken on board by PM Modi at regular intervals and the petition filed in May 2022, in the apex Court, amplifies as much.

In the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case in 1962, a Constitution bench had upheld the sedition law. The Centre in its initial affidavit had said the Kedar Nath verdict came after testing the constitutional validity of 124-A from angles. So is the Centre now deriding the Kedar Nath case verdict? Absolutely not. All the Centre is doing now, is to ensure a fine balance between national security and free speech, within the broader framework of what the Kedar Nath verdict sought to do in any case. The direction to “re-examine and reconsider” the provisions of the sedition law came directly from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government will “suitably” take into account the views of stakeholders and ensure the sovereignty and integrity of the country is preserved while looking into Section 124A of the IPC, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju reiterated. “The government will reconsider and change the provisions as per the need of the present time. Because there are lots of views coming up,” Rijiju, further added. Clearly, PM Modi, a true champion of civil liberties, has, by putting his personal weight behind the need for whittling down the sedition law, shown why he is not only a progressive thinker but is also far more contemporary and modern than what his critics credit him with.

The Congress Party and its ecosystem of the Tukde Tukde gang infamy, have no right to give sermons to others. During the Anna movement, those who were not toeing the UPA line were subjected to bullying, harassment, intimidation and arrests. All this happened under the watchful eyes of the UPA. Needless to add, if there is one party that is the antithesis of freedom, democracy, and respect for institutions, it is the Indian National Congress. This Party has always stood with Breaking India forces and left no opportunity to divide India. Who brought in the First Amendment? None other than Pandit Nehru in 1951! It was Sangh ideologue SP Mookerjee & the Jana Sangh which stood in opposition to this measure, aimed at curtailing freedom of expression. Nehru also dismissed the democratically elected government in Kerala. It was the Indira Gandhi government that made Section 124-A a cognisable offense for the first time in India’s history. This happened in the new Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which came into force in 1974. Has Congress ever bothered to even express regret,for crushing the democratic ethos of this nation repeatedly? The answer is, no.

When it comes to trampling over free speech, Indira Gandhi was second to none. We all know about the horrific 1975 Emergency but does anyone also know that she imposed Article 356, over 50 times? She came up with the idea of a “committed judiciary” to weaken the Judiciary, our third pillar! What an irony that Congress acolytes are today preaching about an independent judiciary! If any government has indeed upheld the sanctity of the judiciary,it is undoubtedly, the Modi government. The UPA government has the worst track record of filing sedition cases. In 2012 alone, over 56000 people were arbitrarily detained, over 23000 were arbitrarily arrested, with over 9000 slapped with sedition charges and all this for simply protesting against an upcoming nuclear power plant that was coming up in Tamil Nadu, at that time. The debate here is not about harnessing nuclear energy for productive purposes– of course with checks and balances,nuclear energy needs to be harnessed for the greater good.The debate here is about the fact that the Congress government used the sedition law as a vicious tool to curb dissent.In sharp contrast,under the Modi government ,there were barely 326 sedition cases that were filed between 2014 and 2019.

Senior advocate Mohit Mathur said that while it falls within the Court’s domain to test the constitutionality of a legal provision whenever a challenge is raised before it, the Centre may be allowed to examine the issue at its end. Advocate Sherbir Panag, a financial crimes’ lawyer, called the Centre’s stand a “step worth being applauded” as he claimed that it is better if the law of sedition is dealt through the “legislative process” in a time-bound manner. One can argue back and forth but the hard truth is that no government in India, since independence, has come out and openly talked about a review of the sedition law that was put into effect by Thomas Macaulay, way back in 1870. Hence, for the Modi government to take the bold and progressive stance of wanting to re-examine the sedition law, speaks volumes about its commitment to free speech. Those who claim the Modi government preempted the apex Court in wanting a review of the sedition law are clearly missing the point. Do not forget that, in any case, it is the duty and the right of the Central government to frame laws and legislations. The apex Court, has the right to strike down or modify or build in statutory safeguards, as the case may be, only if the laws framed by the Central government are challenged on valid grounds.

The Supreme Court has been hearing a clutch of pleas challenging the validity of the law on sedition which has been under intense public scrutiny for its alleged misuse to settle political scores by various governments in the past. The top Court in 1962, upheld the validity of the sedition law while attempting to restrict its scope for misuse. Even in the May 2022 observation, all that the apex Court said was that, the government must seek to restrict the use and scope of the sedition law. Nowhere did the apex Court say that the sedition law stands scrapped or that it is irrelevant. Some parts of it may need a re-examination, is all that both the Modi government and the apex Court are saying, at this point.

“Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the government established by law in [India], shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine,” reads section 124-A (sedition) of the IPC. Unfortunately, the sedition law has been misused with rabid impunity by the Opposition ruled States. For instance, MP, Navneet Rana was charged with sedition, for simply wanting to recite the Hanuman Chalisa, outside Matoshree, the residence of Maharashtra’s CM, Uddhav Thackeray. How can recitation of religious texts, even if it is outside the CM’s residence, be an act of sedition? By that logic, one is tempted to ask Mr Thackeray, what about the thousands of Muslims, who offer Namaz every Friday, on roads and railway tracks and even in public toilets? If offering Namaz in a public space is not sedition, why should recitation of Hanuman Chalisa,be made into a cognizable offence? Public property including surrounding roads outside Matoshree are not private, but public spaces.

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi’s younger brother Akbaruddin Owaisi visited and offered prayers at the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s tomb on May 12, 2022. Younger Owaisi’s act of bowing before Aurangzeb to show respect is an act of betrayal and insult to Hindus. How can we forget history?

Despotic and rabid bigot, Auranganzeb, had harassed and schemed against the great warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. He brutally tortured and killed Sambhaji Maharaj.

It is not surprising that Owaisi went to Aurangzeb’s tomb. The thinking of Nizam, Razakars (the paramilitary volunteer force deployed by the Nizam of Hyderabad to resist the princely State’s integration with India during 1947-48) and the earlier Islamic dynasties, is much the same. Aurangzeb, in his barbaric and bloodthirsty, 49-year rule, slaughtered to death 4.6 million Hindus and forcibly converted or took captive, an equal number, besides of course imposing the discriminatory and draconian, Jiziya tax on non-Muslims. If reciting Hanuman Chalisa qualifies as sedition, should younger Owaisi’s act not be seen as a deliberate act to provoke disaffection towards the Indian State, moreso when the Gyanvapi mosque videography issue is underway. The Rana couple were later granted bail after a Court observed that mere expression of derogatory or objectionable words was not sufficient ground to invoke the sedition charge. But the moot point is, those who accuse the BJP of scuttling free speech, are actually the very lot that has zero tolerance to any narrative that does not suit their Hinduphobic taste buds. The Congress and its allies would therefore do well to stop waxing eloquent about the virtues of free speech, because they don’t believe in it.

The BJP has always endeavored to strike a balance between Article 19, that is, freedom of speech and maintaining public order. While Article 19 (1) (a) guarantees freedom of speech and expression, equally, Article 19 (2), speaks of reasonable restrictions. In fact, every fundamental right is subject to reasonable restrictions pertaining to public order, morality, and health.

The Congress Party has time and again abused the sedition law for unfair advantage. In 2019, for instance, an innocent man was charged by the Bhupesh Baghel-led government for sedition for simply raising his voice against the infuriatingly repeated electricity power cuts in Chhattisgarh. More recently, the Congress Party, in Rajasthan, to stifle the voice of the media, invoked sedition charges against a news anchor, Mr. Aman Chopra and continued to hound him, despite a Court order to the contrary. Only last week, Marathi actress Ketaki Chitale was booked and arrested for a purportedly derogatory Facebook post against Sharad Pawar, by the MVA regime. BJP leader, Vinayak Ambekar was also beaten up by NCP goons, for an innocuous Facebook post. Also, how can one forget rabble-rouser Mamata Banerjee, whose corrupt TMC regime, arrested Jadavpur University professor, Ambikesh Mahapatra in 2012, for simply forwarding a harmless spoof on Mamata.

In a historic development, the Supreme Court on May 12, 2022, ordered that the 152-year-old sedition law under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code should be effectively kept in abeyance till the Modi government reconsiders the provision. In an interim order, the Court urged the Centre and the State governments to refrain from registering any FIRs under the said provision, while it was under re-consideration.

In the final analysis, while by July 2022, things pertaining to the sedition law will be a lot clearer, what cannot be denied is the fact that for decades, the Congress Party which ruled India for the longest time, misused and abused this law to checkmate dissent and to clip the wings of political opponents. Sometimes, Congress went to ridiculous lengths to checkmate dissent, the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi in 2012, being one such example. Trivedi was later pardoned once the Modi government took charge in 2014. On May 15, 2022, at the “Chintan Shivir” of the Congress Party in Udaipur, Rahul Gandhi said, the only alternative to the conversation between people, is violence between people. The incompetent Congress scion further added that the Modi government is encouraging violence by muzzling democratic institutions. Well, maybe Rahul is suffering from selective amnesia and needs to be reminded that be it bringing in the draconian 66-A in 2008 to curb free speech, or the Maintenance of the Internal Security Act (MISA) or overturning the 1985 Shah Bano judgment of the Supreme Court, if there is one Party that repeatedly made a mockery of India’s electoral process and the judiciary, it was the Congress Party.

The Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) was a controversial law passed by the Indian parliament in 1971, giving the administration of Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother, Indira Gandhi, very broad powers – indefinite preventive detention of individuals, search and seizure of property without warrants, and wiretapping – in the quelling of civil and political disorder in India, as well as countering foreign-inspired sabotage, terrorism, subterfuge, and threats to national security. Under the garb of quelling terrorism, however, the MISA was used with brazen impunity to hound free-thinking and curb the voice of free thinkers, by Indira. The law was amended several times during the subsequently declared national emergency (1975–1977) and used for quelling political dissent. Finally, it was repealed in 1977, when Indira Gandhi lost the 1977 Indian general election and the Janata Party came to power. To cut to the chase, therefore, it is preposterous to draw a false equivalence between Congress and the BJP. While the BJP has used the sedition law with great restraint and very sparingly in only the rarest cases, Congress used the sedition law as an instrument of vendetta politics.

Sedition law is very, very old but is it time to completely abandon it? The answer is, no. Don’t forget, the catch here is, to use it sparingly. Should it be used against those protesting constructively against government policies? No. Should it be used against those seeking to conspire against the government of the day, in such a way that it harms the country’s territorial integrity? Certainly yes. So known Maoist sympathiser, Binayak Sen, should certainly be behind bars for sedition and so should Sharjeel Imam, who sought to cut off “the chicken’s neck” from the rest of India. The lobby that says the BJP is as bad as the Congress, as both have misused the sedition law, are woefully wrong. The BJP and the Modi government have faced vitriolic opposition bordering on the defamatory and in many cases very perjurious too. Yet, PM Modi, as is typical of him, has always shown extraordinary grace and that is precisely the reason,no sedition charges were slapped against those protesting at Kundli, Singhu and Tikri borders, though their actions often bordered on the grossly unacceptable, given that often during these protests anti-India slogans were raised and Bhindrawale posters were flashed. Discretion is the better part of valour, they say. And the inclusive Modi government has showcased why a re-examination of the sedition law, is the need of the hour, without dismantling it, so that the law is made stronger and more in line with contemporary India’s democratic ethos. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter”. Indeed, PM Modi’s historic decision to seek a re-examination of the archaic sedition law qualifies as a transformative moment, in the quest for that fine balance between free speech and national security.

The writer is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP, and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’. Views expressed in the piece are the writer’s personal.

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RENAMING OF STREETS AND PLACES CANNOT ALTER HISTORY

Pankaj Vohra

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Earlier this week, certain right-wing activists demonstrated in the Mehrauli area of South Delhi demanding that the historic Qutab Minar should be renamed Vishnu Sthambh. Simultaneously another group of people wanted that the names of Shah Jahan Road and Tughlak Road in the Lutyens zone to be changed. Everyone is aware that Delhi is amongst the oldest capitals of the world and there is history buried under every brick and stone. Therefore, even if one was to change the names of every monument or street, one would not be able to erase historical facts. Successive governments have resorted to this futile exercise of renaming places, which other than adding to the confusion has served no other purpose. Being a Delhite from my birth till now, I can tell you that such initiatives undermine reality. How can anyone ever wish away the Mughals for instance who were on the throne of Delhi for several centuries? Red Fort, Jama Masjid and Hamayun’s Tomb are a part of their legacy and attract a large number of tourists every year. The Mughal Gardens at the Rashtrapati Bhawan recognise their stamp over the city and the special Delhi cuisine from Karim to Jawahar eateries is a part of what they have left behind.

The first war of Independence in 1857 resulted in the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar being arrested and externed to Burma. Similarly, Tughlaks played a major part in the evolution of the city. Tughlakabad Fort and Feroze Shah Kotla are monuments that cannot be wished away. In fact, one of the three Ashoka Pillars in the city is located at Ferozeshah Kotla and the famous Cricket ground in the capital where Sunil Gavaskar scored his 29th century to surpass Sir Don Bradman’s record was also a part of this stadium. As far as Qutab Minar goes, like so many other important landmarks, it is also a heritage monument. It honours the Slave dynasty and also reminds people of India’s first woman empress, Razia Sultana. Yes, some dispute that many of these structures were originally Hindu and thus should be recognised as such.

P.N.Oak was the first right-wing historian who spoke on these lines in the late 1960s. If his thesis was right, he should have been honoured by the central governments that have been there in the past 50 years. Congress made the biggest folly when it renamed Connaught Place as Rajiv Chowk. Although this name has gained acceptance, thanks to the Metro services which stop at this station, yet for Delhiites, Connaught Place would always be CP. St Mary’s road was over 60 years ago renamed as Rafi Marg. Most people who live in the city believe that this road was named after the legendary singer Mohammad Rafi when the fact is that it was in memory of Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, a nationalist and freedom fighter who was a part of Jawahar Lal Nehru’s Cabinet.

Delhi has also gone by several names in its hoary history. Hastinapur, Raisina, Indraprastha, Shahjahanabad, Tughlakabad are some of these names. There has been an attempt by governments to also erase the British imprint on the capital. How can this be possible unless, the entire University system, the railways, the English language etc gets changed also? I am not a supporter of colonial powers but India was a British-ruled colony is undeniable. When we celebrate Independence Day, it is to mark our freedom from the British, an acknowledgment of sorts. Let us spend more time strengthening our country and its economy rather than indulging in divisive politics.

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