The concept of sedition has recently come under a lot of scrutiny. Mainly whether Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code is being used within the reasonable restrictions of freedom of expression and speech as stipulated under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India. The petitioners Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla have been criticising the government of Manipur and the Central government and have had multiple FIR’s filed against them. Mr. Wangkhemcha was detained under the National Security Act on November 27th of 2018 for posts and videos he had uploaded to Facebook. He was subsequently released after the High Court had determined that the state did not provide him with copies of his videos and posts, which in turn prevented him from making effective representation against the detention order. The state government and the police claimed that he used abusive language while disagreeing with the government’s decision to celebrate the battle of Rani of Jhansi against the British. He was also accused of calling the Chief Minister of Manipur N. Biren Singh a “Puppet of Hindutva” and an “agent of the Prime Minister”.
SEDITION IN RECENT TIMES
Ever since the BJP has come into power in 2014 the number of sedition cases has seen a rapid rise. Between 2016 to 2019 the number of sedition cases has seen a rise by 160% which seems like a huge number. This might seem scary at first but the number of convictions in relation to cases of sedition has actually dropped to 3.3% from 33% in 2016. There have been many individuals and jurists who have opposed or criticised Section 124A as being a relic from the British Raj that was meant to be used only in extreme circumstances. In order to solve this issue, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was enacted in 1967. This Act provided more specific guidelines and rules to determine threats to the security and integrity of the nation. One finds that the main issue regarding sedition is related to whether it is truly seditious or merely a form of dissent being dressed up as sedition. Dissent has always held a high place of respect in our country after Justice Khanna’s important dissenting opinion in the landmark ADM Jabalpur case. This should come as no surprise considering our history of colonial servitude. The line between dissent and sedition has been blurred in recent times, a sentiment which has been echoed by many notable and renowned jurists such as Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Fali S. Nariman. With the latter even stating that to be “anti-Indian” is not a criminal offence and is not seditious.
In most cases of sedition, the present one included, the landmark judgment of Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar is often referred to. This is done primarily to decide whether a case of sedition is violative of Article 19(1)(a) or whether it is within the reasonable restrictions stipulated within Article 19(2). This is especially important in cases where the media is charged with sedition. This is because the government must maintain security and integrity while not stifling the freedom of speech that the media has. Justice Nageswara Rao in a writ petition filed by TV5 news stated that “This is muzzling of the media” and the rest of the bench stated that it was time “we define the limits of sedition”. In the Kedarnath case the bench stated that “the sections aim at rendering penal only such activities as would be intended, or have a tendency, to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence”. So, to determine whether an individual is acting in a seditious manner, they need to do so with the intention of causing violence.
IS THE PRESENT CASE AN EXAMPLE OF INTENT TO INCITE VIOLENCE?
This present case does not seem to have any elements of inciting violence. On the face of it, it seems like this merely a critique of the Manipur government and its activities. Though it is not as easy as that, the intent to incite violence cannot be looked at only literally. If we were to disregard the implied meaning of certain phrases and statements, we may be ignoring seditious elements. This is more evident when we consider the rising issue of ‘fake news’, which at times hides behind the notion that they are criticising rather than inciting violence. Is an active attempt to alienate people from their representatives not an attempt to incite violence in some manner? In the case of Mr. Kishorechandra his use of aggressive language can be seen as malicious, but it can also be seen as proof of his passion and diligence in ensuring that the government operates efficiently. When there is so much grey in a case one can hardly assume it to be a clear-cut case of sedition, in fact that may prove that it is the complete opposite. This is however what also makes the concept of sedition so complex, as it can be read to mean almost anything. What should be heartening however, is that the judiciary does not seem to have let go of their duty as a watchdog of democracy. They have been ever vigilant and fair in their decisions, which should come as an inspiration to all of us.
Regarding the case of Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha & Anr. v. Union of India I have no doubts that the judiciary will continue to exercise their better judgment and caution in relation to sedition. That they will continue to enlighten the path to classifying sedition in its truest form. The risk here is only presented to the States and the Centre, as a continuous use of sedition to stifle free speech might work against them and cause the people of India to lose faith in them. One cannot help but liken it to the concept of Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPP) as they are also used as a mere hindrance and not as an actual method of achieving justice. As our society grows more complex it is necessary for our laws to take that complexity into account, and to ensure that the fundamental rights of individuals is not violated, and that fear does not motivate an individual’s desire to express themselves. We must ensure that we are not confusing dissent for sedition for to do so would set a dangerous precedent. It is imperative that the government does not abuse the trust placed upon it by the people for that would only work against them in the long run.
Author’s Name: Abhyankar Panth (Bennett University, Greater Noida)
 1976 AIR 1207, 1976 SCR 172
 1962 AIR 955, 1962 SCR Supl. (2) 769