The Delhi High Court order releasing Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union leader >Kanhaiya Kumar on interim bail for six months is the only welcome news to come out of the three-week-long ‘sedition’ drama in the national capital. During these >three intense weeks , the Delhi police embarked on an unwarranted investigation into a meeting organised by a small group of students on the campus on February 9, dubbing the speeches and slogans made there as ‘anti-national’. Mr. Kumar was arrested on February 12, and later, two more surrendered in the case. Mr. Kumar has been >charged with sedition , even though he was neither the organiser nor an active participant in a programme at which allegedly ‘anti-national’ slogans were raised on February 9. Unsubstantiated allegations and unreliable video footage containing inaudible slogans and unclear images were used to put together a legally untenable case of sedition against some students. It is singularly unfortunate that while granting Mr. Kumar bail with a time limit, the Delhi High Court chose to >make unusual observations strengthening the police theory that the entire JNU campus suffers from some unpatriotic and anti-national infestation that requires cleansing through pro-active policing. The court goes to the extent of saying that it is releasing Mr. Kumar on bail as a “conservative method of treatment” for a supposedly serious infection that would otherwise require surgery.
It is a curious bail order. In many respects, it accepts the prosecution’s case. It concludes that the activities at the event were anti-national, but does not say if the essential ingredients for invoking the sedition charge were present. It declares that Mr. Kumar cannot invoke the freedom of speech under Article 19(1) (a), and appears to anchor its decision to grant bail on the sole ground that he should “remain in the mainstream”. The court’s condition that Mr. Kumar should furnish an undertaking that he would not actively or passively participate in any activity that may be termed anti-national is a vague stipulation. In a democracy, the court should seek to have a restraining influence on the executive, but should not be seen as contributing to any partisan discourse that pits radical campus politics against a narrow notion of nationalism. The country is witnessing a disturbing trend of left-wing students, and liberal intellectuals backing their right to practise their brand of politics, being dubbed ‘anti-national’, while the Army and its admirers are placed in patriotic counterposition to them. Courts should not give the judicial imprimatur to the bogus binary sought to be created between ‘seditious students’ and ‘selfless soldiers’. Student activists cannot be portrayed as enemies of the families of martyred soldiers. The government must see reason and drop its attempts to criminalise contrarian views, especially when there is no proof of actual incitement to subversive violence. It should give up the use of >Section 124-A, which covers sedition . The provision >deserves a place only in history books , not the statute book.