“The case against Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar does not amount to sedition. India is the largest democracy in the world. Something or the other is said every day in some corner of the vast country. Are we to be affected by this? What is going to happen to us by mere raising of slogans? I find it laughable.”
That’s former Supreme Court judge Justice Faizanuddin, who, in 1995, along with Justice A S Anand delivered the benchmark judgment on the issue of sedition and what constitutes sedition in the Balwant Singh and another versus State of Punjab case (1995).
Reached for his comments in view of the sharp divide over the Delhi Police’s action to book and arrest JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar for sedition, Justice Faizanuddin told The Indian Express: “Every bloody issue goes to the highest level, from the Supreme Court to Parliament. It is meaningless and yet everybody gets involved.’’
“I am an oldtimer, I have old ethics but I don’t agree with what’s happening today,” the octogenarian, who retired in 1997, said. Justice Anand could not be reached for his comments.
The ruling dealt with sedition charges against Balwant Singh and an accomplice who had raised anti-India slogans in Chandigarh within hours of Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984.
The slogans included “Khalistan Zindabad”, “Only the believer shall rule” and “we will drive Hindus out of Punjab; now is the chance to establish our rule”. The bench, while ruling that mere raising of slogans, a couple of times by two individuals, did not constitute any threat to India, observed that “..over-sensitiveness can sometime be counter-productive and can invite trouble.”
The Bench also came down heavily on the police for exhibiting “lack of maturity…in arresting the appellants for raising the slogans — which arrest -and act the casual raising of one or two slogans – could have created a law and order situation, keeping in view the tense situation prevailing on the date of the assassination of Smt. Indira Gandhi”.
“I will not appreciate a slogan like Pakistan Zindabad,” said Justice Faizanuddin. “Even there you can take action but the slogan itself does not amount to sedition. If people raise slogans in support of Afzal Guru or call his hanging ‘judicial killing,’ let them do so. Just because someone says it’s not going to affect the judiciary. Let people express their opinion,” adding, “Be large-hearted.”
Maintaining, the same spirit two decades later, the former Madhya Pradesh Lokayukta said, “By not ignoring such slogans (those raised on JNU campus) we have enlarged their significance. If nobody would have taken notice of the JNU issue nothing would have happened.”
Criticising what he calls “touch me not” approach, he said, “I don’t think such a narrow view should be taken. When we are living in the 21st century, why should we get troubled by such things? People talk several things.”
Appreciating the role of the judiciary, he says: “I don’t know what would have happened had the Supreme Court not been active. Everything goes to the apex court in the end. Important matters remain pending. Crores are spent on holding parliamentary sessions. Nothing constructive comes out of them.’’
He says, “Everyday I hear something a Sakshi Maharaj says, somewhere. What happens in the end? We can’t go on like that.”
He wondered what is going to be achieved by prosecuting Kanhaiya and others and wonders, “What will we lose if we ignore them?”
He says the phenomenon of (invoking sedition) is irrespective of the party or the government in power. “If there was some other government they would have taken offence to something else. Our thoughts are not clear.’’
Slamming Delhi Police Commission B S Bassi for “saying one thing today and another tomorrow,’’ the judge asks, “Is the law like that. The accuser has to prove the guilt.’’