Beyond sedition, the Indian captain is guilty of a much more indefensible crime: weakening the nation’s resolve to demonise Pakistan and dehumanise Pakistanis.
We should seriously explore the possibility of one of our sansthas engaging senior legal counsel to file a case of sedition against Virat Kohli, who led India to such a disgraceful defeat at the hands of Pakistan last Sunday.
It should be our contention that he came close to committing treason when after the match he not only complimented the Pakistani team but also suggested, preposterously, that “we’ve lost only a game of cricket”. The man has no sense of national pride and honour.
The Delhi Police could be instigated to frame charges of sedition against Kohli. In this matter, we should be able to rely on the Delhi Police’s consecrated deshbhakti to play along. If need be, the new lieutenant-governor can be asked to lean on them. A trial – including, at least, a personal appearance a la Kanhaiya Kumar — at Patiala House will provide an opportunity to reignite the nationalism debate. The BCCI should be made a co-conspirator.
Terror and cricket cannot go hand in hand. Having agreed to participate in the Champions Trophy, the board must have been fully aware of the possibility of India and Pakistan facing each other. This kind of interaction is against the national sentiment. And then came the defeat on Sunday. Humiliating in cricket terms, it was deeply hurtful to our national pride and self-confidence and a definite, unacceptable insult to our jawans.
At first, it appears that we may be on a somewhat weak legal wicket trying to invoke Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (‘attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India…’). Of course, we all know that the Supreme Court has laid down the law on “sedition” in various cases, starting with Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar to the most recent one, Arun Jaitley vs State of UP. The court has tried to balance the restrictions of “sedition” with personal freedoms guaranteed in Article 19.
Nonetheless, a clever lawyer can easily and creatively invoke permissible “reasonable restrictions” on the freedom of speech and expression “in the interests of the security of the state”. When we are in a state of total confrontation with Rawalpindi and its terror proxies, it is nothing but sedition for anyone, leave alone the captain of the Indian cricket team, to praise that Pakistan. Such words of praise are calculated to lower the morale of the brave jawans and brave officers of our brave Army.
While it is quite likely the court may not want to countenance a charge against Kohli for “exciting feelings of enmity and disloyalty”, in the current situation, Virat is guilty of a much more indefensible crime: weakening the nation’s resolve to demonise Pakistan and dehumanise Pakistanis.
Kohli’s praise for Pakistan may not be “a call to arms, rebellion, insurrection”, but nonetheless, it is deeply subversive — because it is disruptive of the anchoring of our national politics, disruptive of national consensus against Pakistan, disruptive of the polarity we have introduced in the national mind. It is entirely possible that a sedition charge against Kohli may not stand rigorous judicial scrutiny, but a controversy is needed, for tactical and strategic reasons.
Strategically, we need to keep in mind that we are engaged in a very vital project of trying to recreate a new sense of togetherness in Bharat. This sense of togetherness is not syncretic, Nehruvian mumbo jumbo; our idea of togetherness is based on a clear distinction between the insider and the stranger; we shall need to overload the public imagination with animosities and enmities.
There is no rocket science to it. It was Sigmund Freud who had explained: “It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestation of their aggressiveness.”
Therefore, it is vitally important that we instil a psychological – and, still better, an intellectual – fear all round: anyone wanting to permit Pakistan even a pretence of reasonableness must know there will be a price to be paid. Liberals and pseudo-secularists will characterise this as intimidation and fear-mongering. Let them bleat.
Tactically, we need to reassure our allies – both transient and long-term. We need to reinforce all those anchors bending their backs – even at the expense of their professional reputations – to sustain this anti-Pakistanism. We must not let them feel abandoned nor make them suspect we are weakening in our aggression. We need a maximalist definition of sedition.
Virat Kohli has the potential of being the perfect test case. At first glance, a charge of sedition against Kohli for what some newspapers and commentators have praised as a “grace-in-defeat” attitude towards Pakistan, may appear over the top; but, there are serious reasons and arguments why Kohli should not be allowed to go scot free for being so reasonable. And there are good reasons for this.
Sedition trial for a new India
After all, Kohli is no ordinary Indian and he cannot be allowed to go off the reservation. He is a middle-class icon and ideal, someone who has reached a highly coveted leadership position not on the basis of his family but on the strength of his merit, skills, temperament, capacity for application, perseverance and passion. His success as an aggressive captain is enormously appealing to the upper middle classes — the Barista crowd — who feel comfortable with a globalised world and are somewhat uncomfortable with what is unfairly called “narrow nationalism”.
It is this segment that once appreciated — and, perhaps continues to itch for a return of — decency and civility in our public life. The poor are unreliable in this grand battle for the Indian mind. They are always too preoccupied with the problems of their daily existence to care too much about Pakistan or China or for our agenda. It is the Barista crowd whose defection to our side made all the difference, but whose allegiance is rather wobbly.
It has taken us a lot of effort to win over and enlist this segment to cheer for us in our political and cultural battles. Just when these people were beginning to find demonisation of everything Pakistan as normal or rather “the new normal” comes this man with his treacherously fulsome praise for the Pakistani cricket team. This can be dangerously infectious. Virat Kohli is guilty of undoing a lot of our hard work with these upper middle classes. As it is, the middle classes do not have the stomach for too much confrontation and too much combativeness. We need to work hard to keep them angry, and keep them in our tent.
The country needs a new sedition trial. It is about time that the law, the judiciary and the Constitution be made to work for recreating a new India.
Harish Khare is Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune, where this article originally appeared.