07 Oct 2019: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) On the case against celebrities: Sedition annoyance
- The registration of a case of sedition against 49 prominent citizens at a police station in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur for writing an open letter in July to the Prime Minister has caused understandable outrage.
- There was nothing in the appeal, which asks for steps to stop lynching and other hate crimes, especially in the name of religion, that even vaguely connoted an attempt to promote disaffection or any prejudice to national integration.
- In these polarised times, it is not surprising that a lawyer took it upon himself to initiate criminal proceedings against the film-makers, artists and writers such as Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aparna Sen and Ramachandra Guha for signing the open appeal on a matter of public concern.
- That a chief judicial magistrate had taken this vexatious complaint on file and directed the police to register an FIR is perplexing. Magistrates indeed have the power to order a police investigation into cognisable offences.
- The Supreme Court has, in Lalita Kumari vs. Uttar Pradesh (2013), laid down that registration of an FIR is mandatory if information received by the police discloses a cognisable offence, and that in some cases, a preliminary enquiry may be conducted before the FIR is registered.
- However, in this case, it is quite astounding how the court or the police could conclude that the contents were seditious or indicative of any other offence.
- While private complaints targeting public figures are not unusual, courts should not, without sufficient cause, indulge the motivated outrage of litigious complainants.
- Superior courts do intervene to quell attempts by those claiming to be offended by some remark or public statements, but it is time the lower judiciary stopped acting reflexively on frivolous complaints.
- Surely, the court should have been aware of the ongoing national debate on retaining sedition as an offence under the IPC’s Section 124A and growing demand for its abrogation. The pervasive disregard for public opinion against the indiscriminate use of the sedition provision is disappointing enough.
- It is worse if the magistracy disregards Supreme Court judgments that say sedition is attracted only if there is incitement to violence, and does not apply to statements that contain mere opinions, howsoever strong they may be.
- It is unfortunate that the court did not see that the complaint was nothing more than a political counterblast to what the complainant saw as criticism of the Prime Minister.
- One can only hope that the Patna High Court puts an end to this farcical attempt to use the judiciary for political ends, and also examine how its supervisory powers can be used to sensitise the magistracy to the constitutional provisions protecting free speech.
2) On New Delhi-Dhaka ties: Best friends for now
- Frequent meetings between neighbours are hallmarks of a strong friendship, and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s four-day India visit, the first full bilateral meeting since both countries went to polls, marks a new chapter between New Delhi and Dhaka.
- The two nations have come closer over a decade-long engagement that began with Ms. Hasina’s return to power in 2008, with an improvement in the strategic sphere, and alignment on regional and global issues, connectivity and trade.
- During this visit, the two countries have committed to upgrading port facilities, implementation of India’s under-utilised Lines of Credit, a coastal surveillance system, and agreements on education, culture and youth.
- They will also coordinate better border management and counter-terror cooperation, and are also working on a regional trilateral energy sharing arrangement with Bhutan.
- Mr. Modi and Ms. Hasina inaugurated three projects, which includes one for the availability of LPG to India. Where they have failed to make headway yet, despite many forward-looking paragraphs in the joint statement, is on river-water sharing agreements.
- Chief among them is the Teesta agreement, for which a framework agreement was inked in 2011, but which has not moved forward since, chiefly because of tensions between the Central and West Bengal governments.
- The long-pending upgrading of the Ganga-Padma barrage project, the draft framework of interim sharing agreements for six rivers - Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar - as well as the draft framework of interim sharing agreement of the Feni river are also pending.
- This task must not be taken lightly between two countries that share 54 transboundary rivers, and where water management is key to prosperity, and often a source of tensions and humanitarian disasters.
- Growing concerns in Bangladesh over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam are another source of tensions, and the government must not ignore questions Ms. Hasina raised with Mr. Modi, in New York and New Delhi.
- While Bangladesh appears to have taken at face value the explanations by Mr. Modi and the External Affairs Minister that the NRC is in its early stages, that it is a judicial process, and is at present an internal matter for India, it is worried by statements to the contrary by Home Minister Amit Shah.
- Even in the past week, he has said that India will deport all non-citizens - he has often called them “termites” - and has taken credit for the NRC as a policy the government will pursue across the country, rather than a court-mandated process.
- The divergence in the two sets of statements proffered by New Delhi will ensure the issue gets raised again and again by Dhaka, and could cast a shadow over what one Bangladesh official otherwise described as the “best of the best” of ties between two neighbours.