The Centre and MPs of the Congress engaged in a war of words in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday about the use of sedition law. The matter started after Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy furnished data on the number of sedition cases registered during 2014 to 2019.
However, Congress’ MP from Malkajgiri in Telangana, Anumula Revanth Reddy, raised objections to the response saying that he had sought the data for the last 10 years, including 2021.
“The minister has given insufficient information,” Reddy said. “Providing half information will lead the House to wrong direction.”
He further pointed out that the home ministry in its reply had said that the “public order” and “police” were state subjects. “Delhi Police comes under the [union] home ministry,” Revanth Reddy said. “In Delhi it is not a state subject...Since 2019 there have been a lot of cases [of sedition] in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.
The Congress MP said that there has been a trend since 2014 to book people under charges of sedition for speaking against the government.
“In 2019, the conviction rate [for sedition] was 3.3%,” he added, according to PTI. “This means these are politically motivated cases. If a youth leader is booked for sedition and the cases drags for 4-5 year, he or she is not in a position...they won’t get a job, passport, visa. Activists like Disha Ravi are charged, but they are not able to prove anything in the court.”
Ravi was arrested in a case filed by the Delhi Police for the creation of an online document intended to help amplify farmer protests. The “toolkit” – a common term used by social activists for campaign material – was tweeted by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. She was released from Tihar Jail on February 23 after nine days in custody, as the court said that the evidence presented by the police was “scanty and sketchy”.
Ravi’s case received wide attention. Her arrest made headlines immediately. After she was granted bail, she stayed away from the limelight until she released a statement on Saturday.
Responding to Revanth Reddy, Union minister G Kishan Reddy said that separate data for number of sedition cases was not maintained before 2014 and it was done only after the Narendra Modi-led government came to power, PTI reported. He read out the number of sedition cases filed in the country since 2014 and claimed that they were “very low”, Live Law reported.
A database launched by Article 14 showed that 96% of the sedition cases filed against 405 Indians for criticising political leaders and governments over the last decade were registered after the BJP government was elected to power in 2014.
Revanth Reddy responded to the minister’s comment, pointing out that the government had said nothing on clearing charges of sedition levelled against farmers and journalists, following the tractor rally on January 26, Live Law reported.
The Delhi Police had named Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and six senior journalists, among others, in a first information report that included charges of sedition and spreading communal disharmony for allegedly sharing unverified news about the death of a protestor during the rally. The Supreme Court, however, stayed their arrest.
Congress MP from Punjab’s Anandpur Sahib Manish Tewari also attacked the Centre on the use of sedition law. He read out the data for conviction in sedition cases, to suggest that the law was being abused to attack free speech, Live Law reported. He too referred to Ravi’s case and said that her bail order made it obvious that the Delhi Police was not able to provide evidence.
He then reiterated a question that was also mentioned in Revanth Reddy’s original query on whether the Centre will bring an amendment to narrow down the scope of the sedition law.
Responding to this, BJP’s New Delhi MP Meenkashi Lekhi said that the judgement in Ravi’s case was not pronounced yet and so it was not appropriate to cite the matter as a misuse of the sedition law, Live Law reported.
She also hit back at the Congress, saying that it should not lecture on misuse of law. Lekhi said the party had used the Maintenance of Internal Security Act against erstwhile Opposition leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan and Atal Bihari Vajpayee during the Emergency, PTI reported.