On Monday, while ruling that “making a strong criticism of the government” is not even defamatory, let alone seditious, the Supreme Court said, “Every magistrate is bound by what we said in the Kedar Nath (case).”
While the judgment has turned the Kedar Nath Singh case into a key reference point for sedition cases, the man himself is all but forgotten. K N Singh, as he is known among the few who remember him, died in 1996 at his village, Barauni Flag, in Begusarai district.
At a rally in Begusarai, then part of Munger district, on May 26, 1953, Singh, then a member of the Forward Communist Party, had taken on the ruling Congress in Bihar and said, “Today the dogs of the CID are loitering round Barauni [in Begusarai]. Many official dogs are sitting even in this meeting. The people of India drove out the British from this country and elected these Congress goondas to the gaddi… We will strike and throw out these Congress goondas as well.”
It was this fiery speech that invited the sedition charge and led to his prosecution by a first class magistrate. However, Singh moved on. In 1967, he is known to have joined the Congress, the party that he had lampooned.
Makardhwaj Singh, now 81, recalls his long-time association with Singh in Begusarai. “Kedar Nath Singh was a revolutionary leader who took part in the freedom movement and went to jail several times. He started his political journey in the mid-1940s with the Forward Bloc and later joined the Forward Communist Party, which was formed in 1948 after a split. When the FCP split, Kedar Nath’s faction merged with the Bolshevik Party of India,” he said.
Makardhwaj Singh, who remembers Singh for his “razor-sharp tongue that didn’t spare his rivals”, says the 1953 speech wasn’t unusual for those times. “For four decades, the Left was a dominant force in Begusarai and its members aggressively took on the Congress for targeting Communist leaders. Kedar Nath Singh had called the Congress goondas because of their vendetta politics,” says Makardhwaj Singh, who believes he is the only surviving associate of Kedar Nath.
He says, however, he is baffled by Singh’s decision to join the Congress.
Senior CPI leader Shatrughan Singh, who hails from Begusarai, says, “Delivering provocative speeches was normal for Communist leaders those days. Singh perhaps landed in trouble for taking on the government of the day.”
At Kedar Nath Singh’s Barauni Flag village, which neighbours JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar’s Bihat village, Singh’s nephew Naresh Singh, 52, says, “My uncle never nursed any political ambitions. In fact, he never contested an election.”