On 3 June, the Supreme Court quashed the sedition case filed against veteran journalist Vinod Dua, filed by a BJP leader from Himachal Pradesh. The complainant was aggrieved by Dua’s YouTube show in which he had criticised the central government‘s implementation of the COVID-19 lockdown.
While providing relief to Dua, the apex court said again that even journalists should benefit from the high threshold of sedition set in the Supreme Court’s 1962 judgment in the Kedar Nath case.
To understand what this “high threshold” is, we decided to revisit the Kedar Nath case. Who was Kedar Nath? Why was he prosecuted and convicted of sedition? Have successive governments learnt any lesson from the “high standard” for invoking sedition set in that case?
Who Was Kedar Nath?
Kedar Nath, popularly known as KN Singh among his colleagues, was a member of the Forward Bloc of the Communist Party. He hailed from Bihar’s Barauni Flag village in the Begusarai district.
Talking to The Indian Express, Makardhwaj Singh, Kedar Nath’s long associate said that he always remembered Nath for “his razor-sharp tongue that didn’t spare his rivals.”
“Kedar Nath Singh was a revolutionary leader who took part in the freedom movement and went to jail several times. He started his political journey in the mid-1940s with the Forward Bloc and later joined the Forward Communist Party, which was formed in 1948 after a split. When the FCP split, Kedar Nath’s faction merged with the Bolshevik Party of India.”Makardhwaj Singh
Kedar Nath Case: The Facts
In the Kedar Nath case, the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court was hearing a question that arose in criminal appeals filed by several persons including Kedar Nath: is Section 124A of IPC which lays down the offence of sedition violative of the fundamental right to free speech enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
Kedar Nath, who associated himself with the Forward Communist Party, was convicted of sedition for a speech he had made in 1953 at Barauni village in Bihar. In his speech he had said:
Today the dogs of the C I D are loitering round Barauni. Many official dogs are sitting even in this meeting. The people of India drove out the Britishers from this country and elected these Congress goondas to the gaddi and seated them on it. Today these Congress goondas are sitting on the gaddi due to the mistake of the people. When we drove out the Britishers, we shall strike and turn out these Congress goondas as well. These official dogs will also be liquidated along with these Congress goondas.Kedar Nath
Kedar Nath had further accused the Congress party of “sucking the blood of kisan and mazdoor” by imposing taxes and by “banking upon American dollars”.
“The Forward Communist Party does not believe in the doctrine of vote itself. The party had always been believing in revolution and does so even at present. We believe in that revolution, which will come and in the flames of which the capitalists, zamindars and the Congress leaders of India, who have made it their profession to loot the country, will be reduced to ashes and on their ashes will be established a government of the poor and the downtrodden people of India.”Kedar Nath
Kedar Nath was convicted of offences under section 124A and 505(b) of the Indian Penal Code. He subsequently moved an appeal before the Patna High Court which was rejected. Therefore, he finally approached the Supreme Court filing a criminal appeal. In that criminal appeal, he had also challenged the constitutional validity of Section 124A of IPC.
What Did The Supreme Court Say?
The Supreme Court very categorically clarified that Section 124A penalises only that speech that is either intended or has the tendency to create public disorder or incitement to violence.
While upholding the constitutional validity of the sedition law, the apex court said that Section 124A “strikes the correct balance” between individual’s fundamental rights and the interest of public order.
“Criticism of public measures or comment on government action, however strongly worded, would be within reasonable limits and would be consistent with the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. It is only when the words, written or spoken, etc. which have the pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order that the law steps in to prevent such activities in the interest of public order.”Supreme Court
In light of the Supreme Court’s upholding the constitutional validation of sedition, the appeal filed by Kedar Nath was dismissed. He had to remain in jail to serve the rest of his sentence. However, he later went on to join the Congress, the very party he had so vehemently criticised in 1953.
He died in 1996 in his village Barauni.