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Sedition Or Democracy?

The headlines had shifted away from the visit of the interlocutors to the row over Arundhati Roy. But now that the government sources have indicated that there won't be any action against Arundhati Roy for her remarks on J&K, perhaps it is time to revisit the debate only to underline the fact that this whole l'affaire Arundhati Roy is a distraction and digression from the main issue which is the situation in the J&K and the role of the interlocutors in trying to find a political situation.

On NDTV's the Buck Stops Here, Vinod Mehta, Sajjad Lone, Harish Salve, Raju Ramachandran debate the issue with Barkha Dutt.

Do watch this -- by far a balanced and sane debate and don't go only by the following which are only some of the main comments that I could transcribe -- the following does not even claim to be an accurate transcription but only a brief summarising overview.

Dilip Padgaonkar: Some people choose to be provocative so as to get noted. If you choose to get provoked, then that's a vindication of the strategem that they have adopted. I choose not to be provoked.

Radha Kumar: You begin always by listening to what people have to say. You do not have to find it palatable, but you have to listen.  Azadi has many different meaning to different people at different times. It's a very creative term. We don't have to worry about what people say. All over India and South Asia, whenever any sort of process begins, people begin by saying No. Naysaying is a common practice in South Asia. I am not worried. You are interpreting Azadi narrowly in terms of territorial freedom. That may not necessarily be the interpretation. It may, it may not. At the beginning of the process however you have to let people say what's on their mind even if it is not to your liking and is not palatable. If you listen to them, something might emerge which may not have been envisaged.
Sedition is not an issue that I am engaging with. My engagement is to help find a political solution.

Harish Salve: The debate on sedition today is irrelevant. There is angst in the Kashmiri people. While the Indian people may find the idea of balkanisation of the country -- that India should be dismembered, that India should be Balkanised -- repulsive today we have to listen to the Kashmiri people and what they want. I am more than willing to listen to the anger of the Kashmiri but not of Arundhati Roy who calls India a nation of expansionist tendencies that has colonised Kashmir with its occupying army. Arundhati Roy is the voice of sensationalism. Ignore what she has to say. If you ask me as a lawyer, whether what she has said is sedition, the answer is yes. But she should be ignored. She is a digression. I don't need her patronising comments...If an angry Kashmiri speaks the same things, I do not call it sedition.

Vinod Mehta: We are chasing the wrong horse. Arundhati has not said anything new. What she has said today, she said in an article many years ago for Outlook. But did Arundhati Roy conjure up the sentiment of Azadi? Is the sentiment of Azadi not the predominant sentiment in the valley? What does Azadi mean? Does it mean secession? Or does it mean freedom from police excesses? She is not the progenitor of these sentiments. Why are we blaming her for a sentiment which is raging like fire all over the valley and whose contours we are not even sure about? We have fallen into a terrible trap. Instead of discussing the problems of the people of Kashmir -- what they think and want -- we are discussing Arundhati Roy. I think it is a BJP-led trap: Heighten up the debate over Arundhati so that the real issue does not get debated. The people of J&K want to live like free people. They do not want so much security apparatus and security forces and identity checks. We should find out what the people of J&K want. What do they think of the security forces? Arundhati Roy just reflects the mood of the people in the valley. There is a core issue. And none of us on any of these debates are willing to talk about in any of these debates. And that core issue is Azadi. Now what we mean by Azadi? We can discuss. We must take the bull by the horns and discuss Azadi which need not necessarily mean secession. But let us not pretend that the sentiment does not exist.

Raju Ramachandran: Cited the case of Kedarnath V/s the State of Punjab -- there must be some incitement to violence, something which must disturb public order to be called sedition. Peacefully advocating secession of Kashmir will not amount to sedition. But something said in charged Kashmir valley would be different from what was said in a seminar here in Delhi, he pointed out. The mere questioning of the idea of India does not amount to sedition. Incitement to violence does.

As far as the valley is concerned we have gone far beyond any thoughts of prosecution for sedition. The whole idea of an all party delegation, interlocutors --- seditious thoughts are overwhelming and we want to hear them out. We are in a dialogue with sedition. Where is the idea of prosecuting any Kashmiri for sedition? This is a dialogue with sedition. In such situations, we go much beyond the law, because we have to save the state, the constitution and the nation. Petty legalities should be ignored.

Sajjad Lone, being the lone Kashmiri voice on the panel, clearly made the most significant and impassioned intervention on what the Supreme Court should be doing in J&K -- about those killed and about those disappeared,  wondering why while there was so much outrage over what Roy had reportedly said, and why the Supreme Court for example did not take suo moto cognisance when  more than a 100 Kashmirir youth were killed in the last few months.  Lone also said that people do want secession. Even Harish Salve aaid he pleaded guilty to Lone's charges and that the Indian state needed to do more, far more and that the institutions needed to be pushed by India's intelligentsia.

Ashok Malik said that India does not want the territorial integrity of the country to change but the status quo is no answer, that the NDA had started a serious dialogue with the Hurriyat which the UPA stopped and it has to pick up the ball and restart the dialogue process. Incidentally, in this programme as well, Ashok Malik makes a reference to bhooka-nanga Hindustan -- for that, see here 

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