An impassioned public debate generated after the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi on charges of sedition has made some senior ministers at the Centre sit up and press for an amendment in the provisions relating to sedition in the Indian Penal Code.
Sources said the issue was discussed at the meeting of Group of Ministers on Media (GoM). At the meeting chaired by Finance Minister P Chidambaram with Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, the ministers agreed that an outdated law of this nature need to be amended.
A day after the GoM meeting, the Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni today formally initiated the process by writing a letter seeking amendment in the provisions of 124(A) of the Sedition Act, which deals with the sedition charges. Though the nodal ministry for drafting a proposal for amendment is Home Ministry, Chidambaram with his pre-eminent position in the Union Government is expected to set the ball in motion. The law minister’s presence and nod at the GoM meeting, whose ministry ultimately has to clear the proposed amendment in due course, indicate that the Government might seriously propose for it.
In her letter to Chidambaram the I&B Minister has said that the government should revisit the law. She is of the opinion that the law must differentiate between anti- state and anti- government protests. The letter further says that the national symbols must be respected and revered at all costs and issues related to it should be dealt under the Act, which is directly related to national symbols. Though Soni’s letter is set in the context of Aseem Trivedi’s arrest, it does not make a mention of his name. The I&B minister had earlier expressed her reservations over his arrest by Maharashtra Police.
The sedition law enacted in 1870 by British Raj is contained in section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code, makes creating hatred or contempt for or disaffection towards the government established by Law in India, an act of sedition punishable with imprisonment for life, whether such disaffection, hatred or contempt is created by words spoken or written or by signs or visible representation. All the repressive laws used by the British against the freedom struggle have been retained in independent India, despite constitutional provisions mandating scrutiny.
Trivedi's arrest under the same charges raised public debate on the relevance of a draconian law that was enacted to suppress the Indian freedom struggle. Politicians of all hues, ranging from LK Advani, Bal Thackeray, Sharad Yadav came out in support of the cartoonist. The Samajawadi Party and Left Front too had joined the outcry – the common refrain was a differentiation between the anti-state and anti-government must be made and the relevant law in the book should appropriately be amended.