September 13, 2015

MAHARASHTRA: BJP State Regime now Slaps Sedition Circular on Opponents

Ashok Dhawale

THE BJP chief minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis is trying to show that he is more loyal than his king, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His was the first BJP state regime to impose the beef ban and the third after Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to pass legislation making reactionary changes in labour laws.

Now the home ministry, which is under his direct charge, has released a most obnoxious circular on August 27, 2015, as regards Section 124A of the IPC (which deals with sedition). Its operative part, as submitted by the Advocate General of Maharashtra to the Bombay High Court and quoted in its 25-page judgment on March 17, 2015, is as follows:

“(1) In view of the felt need to issue certain guidelines to be followed by the police while invoking Section 124A IPC, the following pre-conditions must be kept in mind whilst applying the same:

“(i) The words, signs or representations must bring the government (central or state) into hatred or contempt or must cause or attempt to cause disaffection, enmity or disloyalty to the government and the words/signs/representation must also be an incitement to violence or must be intended or tend to create public disorder or a reasonable apprehension of public disorder;

“(ii) Words, signs or representations against politicians or public servants by themselves do not fall in this category unless the words/signs/representations show them as representative of the government;” 

The background to this is revealing. A political cartoonist and social activist called Assem Trivedi was arrested on September 8, 2012 on the basis of an FIR of January 30, 2012. One of the charges slapped against him was of sedition under Section 124A IPC. Trivedi’s ‘crime’ was that he had displayed several cartoons at a public meeting held on November 27, 2011 in Mumbai in connection with the movement launched by Anna Hazare against corruption. Apart from displaying the cartoons, he had also uploaded some of his cartoons on a website called ‘Cartoons against Corruption’. This was at a time when the Congress-NCP state government was in power. Eventually the sedition charge against Trivedi had to be dropped.

However, a PIL was filed in the Bombay High Court requesting it to examine the legal position so that such invocation of Section 124A IPC is not resorted to in future in an arbitrary and irresponsible manner. It is in response to the clarification sought by the High Court that the Advocate General of Maharashtra made a submission to the Court. It is that submission of the state government which has now been issued last month as a home ministry circular.

The Times of India of September 6, 2015 quotes the chief minister thus: “CM Devendra Fadnavis squarely placed the responsibility for the circular on the former Congress-NCP government. ‘The circular is a direct translation of an HC decision (sic). And that was based on the previous government’s affidavit in court,’ he said. He also stressed it was a circular and not a government resolution based on a cabinet decision. However, Fadnavis backed the circular saying the media’s interpretation of it was ‘laughable’. He ruled out modifying the circular.”

The CPI(M) and all other opposition parties have obviously opposed this draconian circular tooth and nail, as an authoritarian assault on democratic rights and freedom of expression. Various sections of the media and several luminaries in all fields have criticised it sharply. It gives a handle to the government to stifle all dissenting voices. The charge of sedition attracts punishment that can extend to life imprisonment. According to this circular, criticism of any minister or public official can invite the charge of sedition. A joint struggle for the withdrawal of this odious circular will be launched soon by Left and secular forces.

This circular must also be seen in conjunction with the dastardly assassination of the eminent secular intellectual M M Kalburgi in his house at Dharwad in Karnataka on August 30. This murder has recalled memories of the similar murders of Dr Narendra Dabholkar in Pune in 2013 and of Comrade Govind Pansare in Kolhapur in 2015. There is now no doubt whatsoever that all three murders follow the same pattern and they clearly point to the role of Hindutva terrorist elements. The killers of Dabholkar and Pansare are still at large.

Two other recent examples of the ideological onslaught of the reactionary Hindutva forces in Maharashtra must be mentioned. The World Marathi Literary Conference was held on September 5-6 at Port Blair in the Andamans. The president of this literary conference Sheshrao More – who is known for his right-wing Hindutva leanings – led a vitriolic attack on Left and progressive forces in his presidential address. Among other things he said, “A correlation has formed that the more we speak against Hindus, the more progressive we are. This is nothing but the terrorism of the progressives. These dogmatic Marxists have totally ruined ideology in India.” He did not stop there. He extolled V D Savarkar in glowing terms and called for “removing the blot of the charge of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination that had been placed on Savarkar, by filing a petition in the High Court since we now have governments in the centre and the state who are not Savarkar-haters.”

Recently, the BJP-Shiv Sena state government conferred the Maharashtra Bhushan Award on B M Purandare, who for decades had depicted the legendary 17th century warrior-king Shivaji in a communal and casteist light. This gross distortion of history has been going on for the last century. This move of the state government was opposed not only by Left parties but also by several secular intellectuals and literary figures. Thus we have a situation where Purandare, who distorted the history of Shivaji, is awarded a Maharashtra Bhushan; whereas Pansare, who wrote the true history of Shivaji, is shot dead!

These are the dark times that not only the state but also the country are faced with. But as the glorious victory of the struggle against the Modi government’s hated Land Acquisition Ordinance and the unprecedented success of the September 2 nationwide strike showed beyond doubt, the working class, the peasantry and other toiling sections are coming together to forge a fighting unity that will surely dispel these dark times.