A dubious order
Though it may not yield any punitive outcome, the Magistrate’s recent order facilitating sedition charges against intellectuals and activists further discredits ruling dispensation
For the man on the street, the lowest-rung government official often proves to be the highest governmental authority that he comes across. The average street vendor considers that the cop who comes to collect the hafta represents the law of the land, its systems and sometimes the tyranny.
The Chief Judicial Magistrate in Muzzafarpur who recently allowed a miscellaneous criminal petition filed by a local lawyer seeking prosecution of 49 intellectuals and social and cultural activists who wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on mob lynchings in different parts of the country has a more devastating effect on public opinion. They have been slapped with charges of sedition.
There is a big question mark over the sustainability of the charge but it has already done irreparable damage to the credibility of the Modi government as it is widely seen as yet another sign of the autocratic tendencies of the government. There have already been several instances of similar nature. It does not quite matter that in reality the action has been initiated by the judiciary and the government has apparently had no role in it.
Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad has not yet come out with his customary defence, but as the issue gets hotter, he is bound to make the inevitable appearance, challenging detractors whether they believe in the independence of the judiciary, and if that be the case, why blame the government. He may be right in his argument but that is not going to cut much ice with the public.
His colleague, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javdekar has, however, doubled up for Prasad by claiming that blaming the Modi government for the registration of a sedition case was an "absolute falsehood" spread by vested interests and asserted that the development had nothing to with either the party or its dispensation at the Centre.
"This has nothing to do with the BJP and the government. This is a canard which is always spread to defame the Modi government and used to give an impression that there is a choking of freedom of expression in a draconian fashion under it," he is reported to have said.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi has used the opportunity to resume his Modi bashing, which he had taken a break from in recent times. It would have been naïve on his part not to do it. He had done well to relate the latest episode to his favourite charge of rule by 'one man and one ideology' as opposed to the 'idea of India'.
It is an interesting coincidence that the magistrate's order has come on a day when the Supreme Court ruled that a judicial officer must not be punished just because he or she has passed a wrong order.
"To err is human and not one of us, who has held judicial office, can claim that we have never passed a wrong order" a bench comprising Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose observed while quashing all the orders passed against a judicial officer in a case involving disciplinary action.
The court also observed that disciplinary action should not be taken unless there is evidence that the wrong orders have been passed for extraneous reasons and not because of the reasons on the file.
Irrespective of whether or not the magistrate ordering registration of sedition case against the intellectuals gets pulled up for the order, as the case moves up in the judicial hierarchy, it is bound to fail scrutiny. So, the intellectuals who have been put in the dock for their action have no real worries about their future, but wittingly or unwittingly they have been given another genuine opportunity to blame the Modi government. It is no wonder, therefore, that the second batch of intellectuals has produced a letter on similar lines even after their colleagues have been booked.
The controversy threatens to further heat up as with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat describing lynching as alien to the Indian culture and the increasing use of the term is part of a larger conspiracy to bring disrepute to the country and its ruling party.
AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi lost no time in condemning for his claim, saying Muslims, Dalits and even Hindus have been victims of incidents of mob lynching in the country and described the perpetrators of lynching as the 'sons' of Nathuram Godse.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)
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