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Gehlot Govt Criticised For Using Sedition Law in MLA 'Horse Trading' Case

PUCL said that the Rajasthan government could have addressed the matter of alleged horse trading under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Jaipur: The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has raised questions over the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government’s use of the sedition law in Rajasthan against two people who are accused of horse trading.

The matter pertains to three FIRs registered by the Special Operations Group (SOG) based on complaints lodged by the chief whip of the state Congress Mahesh Joshi, under sections 120 B (criminal conspiracy) and 124 A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code.

The FIR stated that the interception of two mobile numbers uncovered conversations about the purchase of MLAs to topple the Gehlot government. It also highlighted that the men who were having the conversation said Sachin Pilot was aiming to be the chief minister. Pilot has since been sacked as the deputy chief minister and president of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee.

Following this, Pilot was issued a notice by the SOG to provide a suitable time, date and place to register his statement in the matter. A similar notice was also sent to Gehlot.

Expressing their shock at the FIR mentioning Section 124 A, PUCL’s Rajasthan president Kavita Srivastava and general secretary Anant Bhatnagar, issued a statement highlighting the “misuse” of the sedition law.

“Since 2011, PUCL has raised its voice for the repeal of the law on Sedition. Thousands of signatures were collected and given to the President of India. A Petition was filed for its repeal in the Petitions committee of the Rajya Sabha and we also wrote to the standing committee and the various law commissions, apart from taking public action against this,” the statement read.

It said, “This Colonial origin law was once used against freedom fighters in the British era and is now being invoked  against human rights defenders and civil society activists. Thousands of ordinary citizens are thrown in jails for raising voices in dissent.”

Also read: Rajasthan: Two Arrested for MLA Horse Trading; FIR Mentions Pilot’s Desire to Be CM

It further adds that in the present case of Rajasthan, it is for the “first time” that sedition has been “wilfully misused” against legislators. “Even if we go by the interpretation of the law in Kedar Nath Singh Vs the State of Bihar, 1962, SCI, AIR 955,  which upheld the validity of the law, namely, sec 124 A, it has been stated that it is applicable only if disaffection results in inciting violence in society, which is not the case here,” the statement said.

The PUCL also pointed out that the Congress’s manifesto during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls said that it “pledged to omit Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code” and demanded adherence to this commitment.

It said that the Rajasthan government should have addressed the matter under the Prevention of Corruption Act. “While the Indian Penal Code does not criminalize actions of destabilizing Government, but if the Government wanted to at all criminalize such actions, as is happening in Rajasthan, and have happened earlier in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, then, chapter 3 of the Prevention of Corruption Act could have been used against the MLAs for receiving or attempting to receive bribes,” the statement by PUCL stated.

In its concluding remarks, PUCL appealed to stop the misuse of the law on sedition and repeal it from the statute books at the earliest.