Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It is NOT ONLY Raj Thakre Who Talks of Anti Migration Theory

Concept of outsiders and locals not limited to Raj Thackeray

12 SEP, 2012, 06.21AM IST, ( Collected From Economic Times )


Raj Thackeray's statement that he would not allowBihari migrants to remain in Mumbai and his elder cousin Uddhav's comment that migrants should be allowed only on the basis of permits deserve to be unequivocally condemned. However, the Thackeray cousins are not the only ones to be blamed. 

Take that moment on August 31 when MNS leader Raj Thackeray waved a newspaper carrying a report that the Nitish Kumar government had complained about Maharashtra policemen not seeking its permission for arresting in Bihar someone who vandalised the Amar Jawan Memorial in Mumbai on August 11 when a procession protesting the treatment of Muslims in Assam turned violent. 

The Azad Maidan protest had also seen the torching of cars, buses, media OB-vans and police vehicles. On September 4, Raj's cousin Uddhav (executive-president of the Shiv Sena from which the MNS leader had walked out to form his own splinter organisation) stated that Bihari migrants should be allowed to work in Mumbai only on the basis of permits. 

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar angrily protested that Raj's comments went against the very concept of India as a country where citizens could work anywhere. Raj's perverse logic seemed to be that if India was one entity, there should be no problem with Maharashtra policemen arresting in Bihar someone who had vandalised the Amar Jawan memorial in Mumbai. The fact that policemen from another state had to get the local authorities' permission before arresting anyone was an aspect he ignored! 

However, this concept of outsiders and locals is not something which Raj discovered. A few years ago, when there was talk of women not being safe at night in the national capital, the experienced Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit had indicated that the violence could be due to a floating population of migrants and had suggested that a system of ID-cards could help control crime. Her comment evoked criticism from the CMs of neighbouring states and Nitish. 

A system of ID-cards for all Indian citizens, irrespective of whether they are locals or migrants, is eminently desirable and something which Nandan Nilekani's Unique Identification Authority of India is working towards. However, as and when there are violent incidents, it is imperative that politicians from all parties respond in a mature manner. 

One is not just referring to the 'spontaneous' Azad Maidan violence. Take the 26/11 attack on Mumbai in which 166 people, including Maharashtra's anti-terrorist squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare, were killed by 9 terrorists from Pakistan. Three weeks later, India's minister for minorities A R Antulay stated that the killing of Karkare during 26/11 could have been due to "terrorism plus something", the something being the ATS investigation into the 2006 Malegaon blasts and the arrest of right-wing Hindu fundamentalists. 

Subsequently, the All India Congress Committee general secretary Digvijay Singh stated that "On November 26, 2008, Hemant Karkare called me on my mobile and told me how his family and his life were blighted by constant threats from people annoyed with his investigations into the Malegaon blasts". The statements by Antulay and Singh were picked up and propagated by those sections in Pakistan which wanted to deny any involvement with 26/11. 

Law of sedition belongs to colonial-era; it must be scrapped to prevent its misuse

Even at first glance, a law frequently invoked against human rights activists, writers, intellectuals and journalists, or those opposed to aspects of state policy, can well be called authoritarian and violative of the right to freedom of expression

Add the fact that the law on sedition in the Indian Penal Code is a colonial-era one, expressly based on the rupture between an unrepresentative regime and the people it seeks to control and coerce, and the arrest of a cartoonist under the sedition provision, Section 124A IPC, seems downright laughable. 

The British government introduced that law, after the empire-shaking Indian rebellion of 1857, to criminalise Indians who might challenge its authority. 

The law, therefore, envisages people not as free citizens with democratic rights but as 'subjects' who need to be disciplined. That rupture between the state and the people it governs disappeared, in principle, with India's Independence. 

Thus, even the Supreme Court, in 1962, defined Section 124A as being only applicable when there is a clear attempt to incite violence. That definition also buttresses the Constitutional right to free speech, and political activity, as long as the red line of propagation of violence is not violated. The sedition law is utterly anachronistic in democratic India, and must be scrapped. To retain it is to invite its misuse to suppress dissent. 

The anachronistic nature of this law is as clear in the case of this cartoonist as it was in the case of a Binayak Sen or an Arundhati Roy. The sedition case slapped on the latter, along with a few others, for their views on Kashmir, is still proceeding. 

Applying the Supreme Court's definition means keeping the space for political dissent open, indeed, protecting it. For, it must be also understood that opposition to state policies can still be legitimate in terms of the principles of the Constitution. As long as it exists, with its draconian history and nebulous definitions, the sedition law is prone to being misused. 

Slapping it on individuals or groups will signify nothing other than the stifling of political dissent and expression. Which is plain undemocratic and unconstitutional.

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