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Sedition case against Navjot Singh Sidhu won’t hold, but what does it mean?

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A colonial law prescribed in the IPC, sedition is a serious criminal offence against the state, but it needs sanction from the govt before it goes to court.

New Delhi: Just two days after former India cricketer and Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu hugged Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the swearing-in ceremony of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, a Muzaffarnagar-based lawyer filed a sedition case against Sidhu Monday.

Advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha alleged that Sidhu “insulted” the families of Indian soldiers by hugging Bajwa and sitting next to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’s president Masood Khan.

Ojha, however, is a serial sedition-case filer. Previously, he has filed such cases against many celebrities, including actor Aamir Khan and his wife Kiran Rao for their ‘intolerance remark’ and Congress leader Digvijaya Singh for calling Baba Ramdev a ‘thug’. But Ojha’s publicity-hungry antics always end with mere headlines.

A case of sedition, a serious criminal offence against the state, requires sanction from the government before it goes to court.

Also read: Sidhu’s hug crossed a red line, but Modi’s letter to Imran Khan makes him a statesman

What does the law say?

A colonial law, sedition is an offence prescribed in Chapter VI under section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code. According to the law, an offence of sedition is committed when any person by words or otherwise brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law.

The provision describes three ways of attempting to bring hatred — by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation.

Sedition is a cognisable (the police can make arrests without a warrant), non-compoundable (the case cannot be withdrawn by the complainant since it is a serious offence) and a non-bailable offence.

The maximum punishment for the offence is life imprisonment, with or without a fine.


Although a police officer can begin investigation and frame charges once a complaint is filed, no court can take cognisance without sanction from the government.

As per Section 196 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, proceedings of sedition cannot be initiated without the written consent of the state government or the district magistrate. So, technically, only the state can permit a case of sedition against any citizen.

Further, the Supreme Court has on numerous occasions interpreted the law strictly ensuring that frivolous cases of sedition cannot be initiated.

In 1962, in Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar, the court said that criticism of those in positions of power would not amount to sedition. It also clarified that, in essence, a sedition case requires to be against acts which are intended to have the “effect of subverting the Government” by violent means, adding that mere slogans and verbal attacks against the government do not amount to sedition.

In Sidhu’s case, a sanction by the state government is yet to be granted. Significantly, since the incident didn’t take place in Indian territory, Ojha’s case is unlikely to make any dent.

Also read: If Modi can engage with a hostile China, why can’t Sidhu go to Pakistan?

Frivolous cases continue

Despite legal safeguards and the Supreme Court ruling, frivolous cases of sedition continue to be filed against citizens. The 2016 Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) row, involving student leaders Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid among others, is a prime example.

In 2015, Union Minister Arun Jaitley’s Facebook post — NJAC Judgement – An Alternative View — criticising the Supreme Court judgment on judicial appointments invited a sedition case.

In 2016, just a few months after the JNU row, then Congress-led Karnataka government pursued a case of sedition against Amnesty India.

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  1. The 1962 judgment of the apex court is being violated with impunity. In the 1920s, Mahatma Gandhi had promised that a free, independent India would scrap the law on sedition. Successive governments have loved to have such a blunt instrument at their disposal. Chanting slogans, waving black flags, now giving someone a hug are being brought within the purview of this law, which deals actually with treason in a violent sense. The sensible course of action would be for the apex court, taking judicial note of the manner in which this law has been applied, especially since its 1962 judgment, to rescind the section as being unconstitutional. It would be open to Parliament to pass a fresh law that conforms to its various judgments on the subject. Even if the law stands, no harm in people using a little common sense before taking recourse to it.

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