Millennium Post

Questions for the citizen to ask

The arrest of Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist from Kanpur, by the Mumbai police and his remand to police custody for seven days by the Bandra court on charges of sedition under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, created widespread condemnation throughout the country. The Mumbai police immediately swung into action and requested the court to send the cartoonist to judicial custody as their investigation was completed within a day of his arrest. Later, the Mumbai High Court released the cartoonist on bail. His supporters alleged that he was punished for supporting Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign. Trivedi, a member of the India Against Corruption, or IAC, was arrested on Saturday based on a private complaint filed by a lawyer in December last year that he had put up banners mocking the Indian Constitution during an Anna Hazare rally in Mumbai. He has also been charged with posting seditious and obscene content on his website, which has been blocked. Cartoons like the one where the activist has altered the three-lion national emblem in a satirical depiction to highlight corruption have attracted the sedition charge.

The chairman of the Press Council of India and the former Judge of the Supreme Court of India, Justice Markandey Katju, slammed the Mumbai police for the arrest and compared them to Nazi war criminals. Justice Katju said that ‘policemen who make such illegal arrests cannot take the plea that they were obeying orders of political superiors. In the Nuremberg trials, the Nazi War Criminals made the plea that orders are orders, and that they were only obeying the orders of their political superior Hitler. But this plea was rejected by the International Tribunal which held that illegal orders should be disobeyed.’

The work of the cartoonist was well within his right under Article 19 [1] [a] of the Constitution of India which guarantees freedom of speech and expression. A democratic government attaches great importance to this freedom because without the freedom of speech, an appeal to reason, which is the basis of democracy, cannot be made. The former Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, Justice Patanjali Sastri, in Romesh Thappar vs State of Madras observed as follows ‘freedom of speech and of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organisation, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible. A freedom of such amplitude might involve the risk of abuse. But the framers of the constitution may well have reflected with Madison, who was the leading spirit in the preparation of the first amendment of the federal constitution, that it is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth than by pruning them away, to injure the vigour of those yielding the proper fruits.’

A government, which is crippled by corruption charges which surface on a regular basis from 2G to Coalgate. The opposition did not allow Parliament to function during the monsoon session and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Coalgate as most of the allocation made in the coal mining scam was done during the period when the coal ministry was headed by the prime minister himself. The US daily Washington Post termed Manmohan Singh as a silent prime minister who has become a tragic figure. The image of the scrupulously honorable, humble and intellectual technocrat has slowly given way to that of a completely different one: a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.

The council of ministers headed by the prime minister is administered the oath of office and secrecy by the President of India under article 75 [4] of the constitution of India. The same council of ministers is tarred with corruption charges of an enormous amplitude. Sedition has been described under the IPC as an offence against the government established by law. But what happens to a government which is in the process of looting the national wealth and resources in such a blatant manner as the 2G and the coal mining scam? Abraham Lincoln said, ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’ But what is the fate of the government which is against the well-being of its own people? 

It’s unfortunate that some of the electronic media barons, at prime time, termed the act of the cartoonist as an attempt to gain publicity as his work was not great enough to gain national attention. I would term the work of Aseem Trivedi as that of a socially conscience Indian who is frustrated as any other nationalist against rampant corruption at the hands of the government which is totally oblivious of the difficulties faced by the common man. 

The cartoonist in exercise of his right to freedom of speech and expression only drew the attention of the government of its evils. Whether an act by a citizen to make the government realise its duties and responsibilities towards its people and the nation be ever termed as sedition is the question each citizen of India needs to ask himself.

Vikas Gupta is an advocate.
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