Condemn the use of draconian sedition law by the Kerala Police! Scrap Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code!

In an alarming turn of events, a police FIR has been registered under the sedition clause against Malayalam writer and theatre artist Kamal C Chavara over a Facebook post that was allegedly “disrespectful to the national anthem”. This comes in the backdrop of the interim order of Supreme Court of India in the ‘National Anthem Case’. Many have pointed out serious legal and constitutional flaws in this judgement. The judgement has led to police actions in many parts of the country, often on the basis of complaints made by right-wing vigilante groups. However, what is worrying for the democratic minded people in the country is that now something similar is happening in Kerala, where the Left and Democratic Front (LDF) is running the state government.

Two points need to be made at this juncture. First, the entire episode is a throwback to our own struggle in JNU following the 9 February 2016 incidents, where student activists were arrested on trumped up charges and slapped with sedition. In fact, the sedition clause – Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) – is a draconian law, and has been widely used against those who express dissent, oppose government policies and conduct protests. It has been used against protesting workers and against those who have participated in democratic struggles. We have consistently maintained that such a draconian law has no place in any modern democracy. Section 124A of the IPC must be scrapped. Moreover, even within the existing legal framework, the sedition law has been interpreted by the Supreme Court in a very specific sense, that it will apply only if there is incitement to imminent violence. And yet in our country the sedition clause has been used time and again in an indiscriminate fashion.

We should not harbour the illusion that the nature of the police will undergo a fundamental transformation in a progressive direction just because there is a Left-led government in a province. But the Left and a state government led by it must have a pro-people policy vis-à-vis the police. This is the understanding that formed the basis of the adoption of a pro-people police policy by the first Communist ministry in Kerala which came to power in 1957.

The second point is related to the nature of the police force in our country. The Indian police force and its organisational structure have been inherited from the colonial times, with no police reforms being undertaken since Independence. Being an integral part of the bourgeois-landlord state machinery, the police force in essence is a repressive apparatus in the service of the ruling classes and the reactionary, hegemonic ideas and values prevalent in the society. The Kerala Police is not an exception to this either. The bourgeois-landlord character of the State does not change with the participation of the Left in state governments with limited powers. Only those who fail to comprehend the nature of state power in our country would think otherwise.

We should not harbour the illusion that the nature of the police will undergo a fundamental transformation in a progressive direction just because there is a Left-led government in a province. But the Left and a state government led by it must have a pro-people policy vis-à-vis the police. This is the understanding that formed the basis of the adoption of a pro-people police policy by the first Communist ministry in Kerala which came to power in 1957. This policy entailed disallowing the police from intervening in labour disputes, for instance – because police intervention would inevitably and in the vast majority of cases be in favour of the oppressing classes. The policy of Left-led state governments has been to refuse to let the police be used against democratic movements and the struggles of the working class, peasantry and other democratic sections.

Therefore the Left and Democratic Front government of Kerala cannot remain silent when draconian laws like sedition are used indiscriminately by the police. The actions of the Kerala Police in the present case are condemnable, and the state government should intervene immediately. It should rectify the mistakes made by the police and take necessary action against the police officers who are guilty of excesses. The LDF government should live up to the faith reposed on it by the people by protecting democratic rights and civil liberties, and not letting the police trample upon these rights and liberties with impunity.