TERMING THE arrest of JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar for sedition as “deplorable”, eminent lawyer Soli Sorabjee on Monday asked if his (Kumar’s) words and actions really amounted to sedition.
“What did he do? Did he merely shout slogans like ‘Pakistan zindabad’? Arresting him for that? I mean that’s deplorable. That is not sedition. Sedition, the Supreme Court has said, are the acts which have a tendency and intention to disturb law and order or incite violence. After all, it is a section which gives you life imprisonment, has very serious consequences. So the Supreme Court has construed it in that fashion and said it very clearly that even if you use words that vigorously criticise the government or comment on the actions of the government, that is not sedition. That is our law, that is how Section 124A was interpreted and upheld as constitutional by a Constitution Bench,” said Sorabjee.
Talking to The Indian Express, the eminent Constitution expert and former Attorney General said, “Even if you say ‘Hindustan murdabad’, it is a borderline case since those words have a tendency to create law and order problem. But, these are all questions that can be decided by a court of law. No individual MLA or anyone else can take the law into his own hands and beat up protesters. That is absurd.”
Commenting on the incident inside Patiala House Courts, where journalists, JNU students and others were beaten up today, Sorabjee said, “You can’t do that. That is what a court of law is there for.” Asked if it was a fit case for the police to book Kumar for sedition on the basis of a speech, the veracity of which had still not been proved, Sorabjee said, “All that is in the realm of speculation. There are different versions. If he did make that speech, and I am saying if, and said ‘Hindustan murdabad’… then naturally it has a tendency of creating a law and order problem and also inciting feelings against the government by saying let’s do away with it. But, this has to be established in a court of law, especially since there are so many different versions. No individual can become a law enforcer and beat up students as some MLA has done today.”
Asked to comment on Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement that the “JNU incident” was supported by Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, Sorabjee said, “Do our citizens require a certificate from Hafiz Saeed to prove their patriotism? I think that is not the right way to go about it. We must go by the actual words they used, the actual acts they did and see if that amounts to sedition. As for Hafiz Saeed, keep him away. We know what his idea about India is… Isme jaane ka koi fayeeda nahin hai. We should go strictly by the law as laid down by the Supreme Court in Kedar Nath case. I will also be very upset if somebody said ‘Pakistan zindabad’. But, the question is that’s not sedition. If in his speech he has said ‘Hindustan murdabad’, is he suggesting that it’s a tyrannical state, it’s better to do away with it, better to overthrow it. Is that sedition? That has to be established in a court of law by following proper procedure.”
Asked if, by booking Kumar under sedition, the signal that might have gone out is that India is so weak that a speech by a university students’ union leader, even if he did say what he is alleged to have said, can disturb the unity of the country, the eminent lawyer said, “I agree. Our state rests on more solid foundations, which can’t be disturbed by ill-conceived or ill-tempered, stupid words by a person. I don’t know if he did say ‘Hindustan murdabad’. We should take things in the right perspective. I feel we should not overreact. If we overreact, on the contrary, it makes matters worse.”
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