JNU: While at it, Rahul can learn a thing or two

In this episode BJP, Congress and left have three spots to vie for: the good, the bad and the ugly

GN Bureau | February 16, 2016




Beyond consolidating its core constituency of hooligans, the BJP has only bloodied its nose in the JNU episode. [Link] Rahul Gandhi and his party, the Congress, should have benefitted a little from being on the right side of liberal and progressive forces. That, however, would be ironical.

At the heart of the controversy is the sedition charge slapped on a student leader, for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans. What little evidence is surfacing in public domain is not clear: there are various video showing various things, and then there are conspiracy theories too that the anti-India slogan-shouters are from BJP’s student wing, ABVP. However, the sedition charge is altogether too much. Even former attorney general Soli Sorabjee has said as much [LINK]. The supreme court position on this matter has been that there has to be an incitement to violence against the state, which is outright missing here.

The sedition law, section 124(a) of the Indian penal code (IPC), is the legacy of the colonial rule, and Britain itself has given up on it. The US, another mature democracy, allows citizens far more space to criticize the state, including burning the flag and so on. In India, on the other hand, the state has been like a feudal patriarch who must not be criticised.

That image of a feudal lord fits our main ruling party perfectly. The BJP has been so oversensitive – or insecure – in the face of dissent that it has been resorting to the sedition charge at the drop of a hat. Hardik Patel in Gujarat has been behind the bars for months under this charge. (He indeed spoke of violence, against the state government, but nobody in right mind would accuse him of a plot against the nation!) 

However, the fact remains that when it comes heavy-handed handling of dissent, the BJP has many lessons to learn from our grand old party that did not abolish the sedition clause even if Jawaharlal Nehru was highly critical of it. In its last, decade-long regime, Rahul Gandhi’s Congress slapped this ridiculous charge on people ranging from allegedly Maoist sympathizer and factually health activist doctor Binayak Sen to writer-activist Arundhati Roy. Its record during the Emergency years is also not glorious when it comes to upholding civil rights and liberty.

[For that matter, the left wing – the poor victim in the whole episode – does not have high standards of caring for civil rights, non-violence and listening to dissent when it is in power in states. However, in the JNU campus, over four and a half decades, the various factions of it have largely upheld all the liberal-progressive values and resisted violence.]

So, Rahul is doing the right thing for a political leader in taking up the liberal space to counter the BJP’s “fascist” stance, but while he is at it, he should introspect. He can begin by pledging to review the sedition law and apologizing for the emergency.

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