‘Fine-tune the law or repeal it’

Published : Jan 30, 2019 12:30 IST

Manish Tewari, Congress leader.

Manish Tewari, Congress leader.

Congress leader and former Union Minister Manish Tewari said it was high time archaic laws such as the sedition law were done away with. “In the past 55 months, misuse of this law has been rampant, more than ever before. There is an organised attempt at thought control through fear and intimidation,” he said in an interview to Frontline . Excerpts:

The law on sedition is a legacy from the British era. While even Britain has done away with this law, why should India continue to have it? Should it not be repealed?

Absolutely. The sedition law should have been repealed long ago. We don’t need such a law. It is past its expiry date. The next Parliament must repeal the law in its collective wisdom.

But even the Congress did not take an initiative in this respect when it was in power. Is it not a fact that Congress governments also misused the law frequently?

See, either we can look ahead or continue to look behind our shoulders. As things stand today, especially when this law continues to be misused to stifle the freedom of expression and speech, there are only two options before us. Either we fine-tune it to such an extent that it becomes impossible for the government to invoke it, except in circumstances where there is a clear and established nexus between words and actions either to incite violence or to overthrow the government, which actually is the language of the sedition law; sharpen it to such an extent that its misuse gets obviated. Or, the next best course of action would be to get it repealed lock, stock and barrel.

Is it not a fact that governments, irrespective of which party is in power, have been reluctant to repeal this law because it can be used as a weapon against political opponents?

As I said earlier, either we look back over our shoulders or look ahead. The time has come to look at a number of laws such as criminal defamation and sedition, which have become archaic and are merely instrumentalities to stifle the freedom of speech and expression.

Do you think it has been misused in the latest instance of sedition charges against the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)?

Definitely. In fact, in the past 55 months, the misuse of this law has been more than ever before. The JNU case is yet another manifestation of how it has been singularly, wrongly applied.

Do you think the misuse of this law has been more during the current regime than in previous ones?

Undoubtedly. Let me repeat that the misuse of this law has been more than ever before. There is an organised attempt to instil thought control through fear and intimidation.

I had warned in my speech at the International Film Festival of India in November 2013 that the first casualty, if the right wing comes to power, would be the creative community, and that is exactly what has happened. In the past 55 months, people have had to install censors in their heads.

Since we have seen that successive governments have not been keen on taking any initiative to repeal this law, do you think it can be done through a private member’s Bill in Parliament?

Unfortunately, private members’ Bills do not have a history of legislative success. So, the next government and Parliament, in its collective wisdom, will have to take a step in this direction.


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