SEDITION, IF YOU go by the dictionary meaning and why wouldn’t you, is when a man, or a woman, decides that he or she has had too much of the government and decides to do something about it—“language or behaviour that is intended to persuade other people to oppose their government,” says Cambridge.
The word that you must now connect in India to sedition is however “disaffection”. Because in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) section, this, among others, is the term that is most useful for the police when it comes to deciding whether someone has been seditious. You don’t need to start organising
hungry tribals in the forests of Jharkhand and arm them with red flags and guns. You don’t need to have underground terrorist cells waiting for the right moment to plant a bomb. You don’t need to plan a riot. You don’t need to have an iota of violence in you.
All you need is disaffection, a malleable term which in the IPC section’s explanation also includes “disloyalty”, another malleable term. That is how a politician-couple, Ravi and Navneet Rana, legislator and parliamentarian, respectively, who are independent but allied with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra, after announcing that they would recite the Hanuman Chalisa outside the home of Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, have been charged with sedition and arrested.
The threat of reciting the hymn was an obvious publicity stunt. The Hanuman Chalisa has risen to the top of the charts among politicians in the state after Raj Thackeray, who leads the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, in a recent speech threatened to blare it everywhere if mosques didn’t silence their loudspeakers. He got his pound of publicity. Naturally, others saw the trend. But the only reason for the government to take it seriously is if they thought Hanuman might actually be listening when the Ranas did their chanting and help with the disaffection.
Their arrest is still on strong foundation because the law is what it is. Is not reciting the Hanuman Chalisa outside a chief minster’s home sedition because it clearly shows disloyalty? If they were loyal, the Ranas would stay at their home and do the recitation. Disaffection and disloyalty are umbrellas under which anything can find room. That is a problem for all Indians because is there a single intelligent citizen who has never been disaffected by his government? It is the reason why they vote them out. A political synonym for disaffection is anti-incumbency. And if any government really wanted to come after you, it would find some tweet or public statement that mocked it and decide it was sedition. The history of India is replete with such instances. These cases usually get thrown out by the courts but the process, as always in India, is the deterrent. But the Ranas will be satisfied. Unlike ordinary citizens, an arrest is a line in bold in a politician’s resume.