Is Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi overstepping his authority as the second-in-command of India's grand old party? Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh's advice to Karnataka Chief Minister G Siddaramaiah on the Amnesty International sedition case not to make any arrests pending investigation indicates that the Gandhi scion is even indirectly interfering into matters involving law and order.
Singh's advice came a day after Siddaramaiah warned on Wednesday that anyone involved in anti-national activities won't be spared. It is surprising that Rahul Gandhi is intervening into the matter even before the Bengaluru Police came to any conclusion. Has the Congress vice-president taken over the role of an investigation agency as well?
It's no secret that the political leadership often interferes in the filing of a case, the kind of sections of IPC and CrPC to be slapped or not and the way investigations should proceed. The investigating officers in all cases concerning the high and mighty almost necessarily obtain clearance from political bosses.
But these are always done discretely and any claims or allegations of interference are stoutly denied. No party ever go on publishing it, least of all make any boastful claim over that.
Rahul Gandhi's political guide Digvijaya Singh, however, chose to be different.
According to a report in the Indian Express, "Singh confirmed that he got a 'message' from Rahul inquiring about the development. He also said there was a need to review the sedition clause in the IPC."
Did the Congress get its strategy wrong by going public?
The party in its wisdom decided that by making Rahul's unauthorised intervention in the Amnesty International case and with directions to Karnataka Chief Minister to go soft would put the Congress vice-president on a pedestal probably as a messiah of free speech.
Rahul behaved similarly when the Jawaharlal Nehru Students'Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was slapped with sedition charges earlier this year. The difference between the two situations is that -- in JNU, Rahul only limited himself to a speech but in the Amnesty International case he went a step ahead.
Being Congress in-charge of the state, Singh does have the authority to impress upon the Karnataka Chief Minister what the party high command wants from him. In a series of tweets, Singh said, "I spoke to CM Karnataka and he has assured me that no arrests would be made pending investigation. Only FIR has been filed."
Pending investigation is a broad term. Does it mean till police reaches to a conclusion in weeks, months or may be years? There are situations where police investigation on a politically sensitive issue drags on for years. Or does it mean till it gets a direction from the court? Does his tweet on Karnataka Chief Minister's assurance that no arrests will be made during this period, a blanket ban on arrest, no custodial interrogation of accused persons will happen? Aren't all decisions pertaining to a case ideally be taken by the investigating officer?
In another tweet Digvijaya said, "Simply raising slogans is not a fit case to be charged with Sedition. It is a law which British used against our Leaders in Freedom Movement." Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi had later held a press conference to dwell at length why a sedition case is not applicable here.
Again they could be right that sedition was too serious a charge and should not be randomly applied. But the same question arises again -- who decides, Rahul Gandhi or the state administration?
The argument here is not whether the sedition law is good or bad, archaic or not, but on who decides on how investigations should proceed and whether the police need to make any arrest? It is the job of the police to find out who raised anti-India slogans and find out their mastermind. It is for the police to decide whether a case should be made against Amnesty International or not.
The Congress' de-facto boss can't lord over law enforcing agencies. He has no mandate to do so.