Yet again, the Congress doesn't know what it is doing. This is the party whose Vice President, Rahul Gandhi, waded into the crowd at Jawaharlal Nehru University in the middle of the sedition drama in February and said, "they will not understand that in crushing you, they are making you stronger". But this is also the party where the senior leadership quietly criticised Gandhi's actions and ensure there was no more defending of those accused of sedition.

In Karnataka, in the aftermath of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad's sedition complaint against Amnesty International India – which the Bengaluru Police used as the basis for a First Information Report – the same script is playing out.

A few Congress members are condemning the decision to slap criminal charges based on just a few slogans. But the official machinery of the party has not been mobilised to defend the principle of free speech or speak up for the fact that sedition charges are now commonly used to suppress dissent.

On August 13, Amnesty International India held an event in Bengaluru as part of its campaign against human rights violations in Kashmir. The event focused on the families of those who had lost their lives to alleged state abuse, which the right-wing ABVP considered anti-national because it raised questions about the Indian Army's conduct. Even though Amnesty had expressly invited police to be a part of the proceedings, the ABVP's criminal complaint later was turned into an FIR that included sedition charges.

Cynical Congress

Here's the thing: Karnataka is a Congress-ruled state, while law-and-order is a state subject. So although the Bharatiya Janata Party and the broader Sangh Parivar have cynically used the ABVP to intimidate anyone who disagrees with their Hindutva view of the world, most infamously leading to the death of Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula, the Congress has the power to prevent this from turning into a criminal matter.

Consider Rahul Gandhi's words in JNU earlier this year. "We do not have a problem if RSS and BJP want to express their opinion," Gandhi said. "We just want to tell them if they will listen to us, they will be convinced by us. They do not understand that by crushing you they are making you stronger. They are terrified of weak Indian people raising their voice."

Eyewitness accounts from the Amnesty event in Bengaluru do not seem to include any incitement to violence, one of the ingredients of seditious speech as established by the Supreme Court of India. The ABVP complaint in fact suggests that it considers criticism of the Army alone sufficient to prove Amnesty's alleged sedition, as if even questioning Indian institutions is criminal. This is exactly what Gandhi spoke up against at JNU.

JNU vs Amnesty

Yet after this incident in a Congress-ruled state and in fact, ever since Gandhi's surprising JNU visit made senior leaders concerned that the party could be painted as siding with anti-nationals, the Congress has not spoken up about the matter.

"It is not proper to compare the Bangalore incident with the JNU incident," senior leader Jairam Ramesh said. "JNU is a centre of excellence, a larger university. An incident took place. Claims were made that anti-India slogans were raised. Local police has filed an FIR. Investigations are on whether any laws have been broken. Let us wait for the outcome."

That stirring defence of free speech and the right to dissent has disappeared, and in its place is a classic Congress tactic: Stall until you can figure out what to do with this. The party would be happy to find another stick with which to beat the BJP with, as it has happily jumped on board all the anti-establishment movements that have sprung up without Congress support over the last two years: The Land law agitation, the Rohith Vemula demonstrations, the JNU azadi fight, the Kashmir protests and the Dalit movement.

Court rescue

The Congress remains cynical as ever, happy to ride a tiger and jump off when it's not useful. This means senior leader Digvijay Singh can tweet out something like this, suggesting half-hearted action:

Singh creditably has questioned the very concept of sedition, saying it is an outdated colonial law that needs to be struck from the books. Yet it's hard not to ignore the fact that his party was in power for a decade until 2014, is in power in Karnataka and has yet to take a clear stand on whether the sedition law should be on the books.

On Thursday, the Indian Express filed a report claiming that Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi was behind Singh's tweet, claiming that he had "stepped in" and asked for the action. Yet Gandhi himself, as of Thursday morning, has remained silent on the issue.

As always, we might have to turn to the courts to get some sensed. Advocacy Common Cause, through senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, on Wednesday filed a Public Interest Litigation against the misuse and misapplication of sedition laws. Maybe the courts can step in where the Congress, after putting a scion's toe across the line, feared to tread.