Why is it seditious to cheer the Pakistan cricket team?

By applying Sec 124A, the sedition charge, the BJP seems to be redefining nationalism – and sport

Written by Ravi Nair | Published:June 23, 2017 8:06 am
india vs pakistan, india pak cricket, pakistan win, Champions Trophy final, pakistan cheering, sedition, pak cricket team, what is sedition, sedition pak match, indian express news, india news, opinion Sharifa with her son in Burhanpur. Her husband Sharif Hasan Tadvi was arrested. (Express Photo/Oinam Anand)

A number of Indian actors, cricketers and other public figures have made refreshingly welcome statements congratulating the Pakistan cricket team after it defeated India earlier this week. This is in the best tradition of cricket, sportsmanship and peace.

While it is possible that some Pakistani citizens may have made crude comments in the past, a search of the Pakistan media reveals no such vitriol from public figures at this present time. The abiding memory is the 2004 Indian tour of Pakistan. The warmth with which “Indian cricketers [were] dined, feted, mobbed and welcomed every step of the way, were extremely popular in Pakistan, with countless requests for pictures and autographs; it did not matter the least that the home team had been beaten in both forms of the game,” said a major Indian daily. .

As poet Alfred Tennyson put it: “Cricket has more in it than mere efficiency. There is something called the Spirit of Cricket which cannot be defined.”

Mercifully, wisdom seems to have dawned on the BJP Madhya Pradesh administration, which has reportedly dropped sedition charges against some 15 men allegedly ‘celebrating’ Pakistan’s win under Section124A. Instead, it plans to charge them under 153A, a section in the CrPC which relates to “Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony…” The superior courts should squash the FIRs with stringent strictures.

Even Karnataka’s allegedly secular administration has little control over its police. Arrests for sedition in that state means that it is now even harder to distinguish between the khaki long pants of the state’s uniformed force and the new khaki couture of the Hindutva brigade.

The flag-waving crowd in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh is also not far behind. Arrests under the sedition clause of 124A have now been reported in Rajasthan and inquiries started in Uttar Pradesh.

Several print media reports indicate that all that was happening on that day, as India lost and Pakistan was, was a bunch of exuberant, boisterous, perhaps even idiotic youth, letting off steam after the day’s excitement was done.

In Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab, 1995 (1) SCR 411, the Supreme Court held that the casual raising of slogans once or twice by two individuals alone cannot be aimed at exciting or attempt to excite hatred or disaffection towards the government as established by law in India. In KedarNath Singh v. State of Bihar AIR 1962 SC 955,the Court, while saving the offence of sedition from constitutional invalidity, gave it an extremely focused interpretation to bring it in consonance with the ideals of freedom of speech. The Court held that the section aimed to render penal only such speeches as would be intended, or have a tendency to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence.

So why has “sedition” suddenly become such a popular charge since the Narendra Modi government came to power?

Perhaps the BJP, inheritors of a political school which did not participate in the freedom movement, is now trying to rewrite the meaning of “nationalism”. If this is true then it could, indeed, apply in all sorts of ways.

For example, all those involved in signing the so-called Standstill Agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muviah) in 2014, could theoretically be charged with sedition. This is because the NSCN (IM) has not accepted the sovereignty of India or laid down its arms for good. To reinforce their stand, the NSCN (IM), a few weeks after the signing of this mysterious framework agreement in New Delhi, reiterated their quest for a “sovereign Nagalim” in a function in Camp Hebron in Nagaland, which is Indian territory.

Even before independence in 1947, the Dravidian movement favoured secession from India and the creation of a ‘Dravida Nadu’. Contrary to popular perception in other parts of India, this aspiration was not demolished by the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which sought to “prevent the fissiparous, secessionist tendency in the country engendered by regional and linguistic loyalties and to preserve the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity” of India.

That was achieved by the 1956 States Reorganization Act and the administrative efficiency of then Tamil Nadu chief minister K Kamaraj, through his sensitive outreach to the ordinary Tamil. Not to be forgotten in this is the statesmanship displayed by C.N.Annadurai, a great Dravidian leader who bought into the Indian dream, but received little credit for it.

And in the face of ill-advised Indian support to Sri Lanka, in the final onslaught against the Tamils in northern Sri Lanka, it was left to the deft genius of a much-misunderstood M. Karunanidhi to squelch painlessly any embers of Tamil ultra-nationalism on the Indian side of the straits.

In the year 1974, two grand old ladies of South Asia had tea together. Then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi gifted, or should we say, ceded, the island of Kachhathivu to then Sri Lankan prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. The Indian Constitution is clear that no part of India can be ceded to another country without parliamentary approval from both Houses through a Constitutional amendment.

With the exception of the then Socialist Party of India, the DMK and the Forward Bloc, no other Indian party vigorously opposed this illegal act. The ‘atoot-angwallahs ‘in Parliament at that point clearly felt that this was not important as it was not part of Akhand Bharat that they constantly seek to attain.

As Mahatma Gandhi put it: “Section 124A under which I am happily charged is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.”

As the old English proverb goes:“There are none so blind as those who will not see”. In this, the Indian state has no eyesight, no hindsight and no foresight.

The Modi government has got rid of several hundred archaic laws held over from the worst colonial days of the Raj. But Section 124A, the sedition charge, remains. The mind boggles at the felicity with which it is being applied these days. Perhaps there is a method in the madness?

Or, here is a more fundamental question : Is the BJP, as the accusation against those celebrating Pakistan’s victory over India in cricket shows, simply against a little bit of sport?

Ravi Nair is the Executive Director of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre
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