NEW DELHI: Hours after the Supreme Court of India put the contentious Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, popularly known as ‘Sedition Law’, in abeyance and urged the state governments not to register fresh FIRs under this law till a government-formed committee re-evaluates its framework, a war of words erupted between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress on Wednesday.
“All pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to the charges framed under Section 124A of the IPC be kept in abeyance,” SC said in historic order.
The interim order by the SC bench of CJI N V Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli came two days after the Centre had submitted an affidavit on Monday.
In its affidavit, the Centre had told the SC, “Prime minister Narendra Modi is of the firm view that the baggage of colonial-era laws, which outlived their utility, must be scrapped during the period of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ (75 years of independence)….”
Congress, which frequently invoked the law during its rule in India for around 60 years, however, jumped to take credit, saying it was a moral victory of the people.
Later, in a series of tweets, senior BJP leader and Union minister of law and justice Kiren Rijiju turned the pages of history, accusing Congress of drawing benefits from the very same law.
“Who brought in the First Amendment? None other than Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru! It was SP Mookerjee & the Jana Sangh which stood in opposition to this measure aimed at curtailing freedom of expression. Nehruji also dismissed the democratically elected Government in Kerala”
Earlier in the day, Congress president Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter, saying how BJP was exacting the powers laid in the sedition law to arm-twist its detractors.
“Speaking the truth is patriotism, not treason. Telling the truth is patriotism, not treason. Listening to the truth is the Rajdharma. To crush the truth is arrogance. Do not fear!” Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi.
Rijiju, who had earlier made a thinly-veiled attack on the SC order, saying there is a need for Laxman rekha, minced no words in holding Gandhi’s family responsible for stifling voices in India in the past, either through Emergency or amending the laws to control dissent.
Empty words by @RahulGandhi
If there is one party that is the antithesis of freedom, democracy and respect for institutions, it is the Indian National Congress.
This Party has always stood with Breaking India forces and left no opportunity to divide India. https://t.co/Rajl1pG2v8
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) May 11, 2022
“Empty words by @RahulGandhi. If there is one party that is the antithesis of freedom, democracy and respect for institutions, it is the Indian National Congress. This Party has always stood with Breaking India forces and left no opportunity to divide India,” the Arunachal Pradesh MP remarked on his Twitter account.
He did not stop at this.
“It was the Indira Gandhi Government which made Section 124A a cognisable offence for the first time in India’s history. This happened in the new Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 which came into force in 1974. Has Congress checked its own past actions?” he added.
Congress is accused of booking 280 cases under the draconian sedition law to arrest several in the country including lawmakers and journalists.
Legal experts, though , welcomed the Supreme Court interim order but also said no past lawyer-minister in the Congress government had done a wee bit to repeal the law.
“Kapil Sibal himself served as a law minister in Dr Manmohan Singh’s government but did nothing to remove this law from the statute. In fact, as IT Minister he had introduced section 66A (IT Act 2000) in 2008. This section gave the power to arrest and imprison people for allegedly offensive and menacing online posts and was passed without any discussion in the parliament,” said a senior lawyer, who wished not to be named.
This section was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015 in Shreya Singhal vs Union of India. The apex court had then termed it open-ended and unconstitutionally vague”.