As the ruling BJP and opposition Congress continue to trade barbs over the historic Supreme Court order on the colonial-era sedition law, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Thursday slammed Law Minister Kiren Rijiju over his “Lakshman Rekha” remark. After the top court put on hold the application of the controversial sedition law, Mr Rijiju had said while he “respected the court and its independence”, there is a “Lakshman Rekha” that cannot be crossed.
Mr Chidambaram, reacting to the remark, said the Law Minister has no authority to draw any “arbitrary Lakshman Rekha” and should read Article 13 of the Constitution which allows for any pre-constitution law to be declared void if they are inconsistent with constitutional rights.
“The Legislature cannot make a law, nor can a law be allowed to remain on the statute book, that violates the Fundamental Rights. The sedition law, in the view of many legal scholars, violates Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution,” the former Union Minister said on Twitter.
The Law Minister of India has no authority to draw any arbitrary Lakshman Rekha
He should read Article 13 of the Constitution
The Legislature cannot make a law, nor can a law be allowed to remain on the statute book, that violates the Fundamental Rights
— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) May 12, 2022
“All the King’s horses and all the King’s men cannot save that law,” Mr Chidambaram said in a swipe at the Centre.
Mr Rijiju then hit back at the Congress leader, pointing out that the first amendment to the Constitution was brought in by the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It sought to limit the fundamental rights to protect against “abuse of freedom of speech and expression”.
“That’s why Nehru Ji brought in the First Amendment and Smt Indira Gandhi made Section 124A a cognisable offence for the first time in India’s history?
And during Anna Movement & the other anti-corruption movements citizens were subjected to harassment, intimidation and arrests?” he said on Twitter.
That’s why Nehru Ji brought in the First Amendment and Smt Indira Gandhi made Section 124A a cognisable offence for the first time in India’s history?
And during Anna Movement & the other anti-corruption movements citizens were subjected to harassment, intimidation and arrests? https://t.co/ZJsIfLuzme
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) May 12, 2022
“We’ve made our positions very clear and also informed the court about the intention of our PM (Prime Minister Narendra Modi). We respect the court and its independence. But there’s a ‘Lakshman Rekha’ that must be respected by all organs of the state in letter and spirit. We have to ensure that we respect the provisions of the Indian Constitution as well as existing laws,” the Law Minister told reporters about the court order yesterday.
“We respect each other, the court should respect government, legislature, so as government should also respect court. We have clear demarcation of boundary and that Lakshman Rekha should not be crossed by anybody,” Mr Rijiju added.
As he made the sharp comment, Mr Rijiju had evaded a question on whether he believed the Supreme Court’s decision was wrong.
The Congress on Wednesday welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to put on hold the sedition law, saying a clear cut message has gone to subjugators of dissent that “you can no longer suppress the voice of truth” and those critical of the government must be heard.
The Law Minister had yesterday in a series of tweets called the Congress “the antithesis of freedom, democracy and respect for institutions” after former Congress chief and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi took a jibe at the Centre over “crushing the truth”.
Empty words by @RahulGandhi
If there is one party that is the antithesis of freedom, democracy and respect for institutions, it is the Indian National Congress.
This Party has always stood with Breaking India forces and left no opportunity to divide India. https://t.co/Rajl1pG2v8
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) May 11, 2022
The controversial sedition law will be paused while the government reviews it, the court said today and allowed those jailed for sedition to approach courts for bail. The Centre had argued against the stay on the law, arguing that it would review it and a police officer of the level of Superintendent or above could decide whether a sedition charge should be filed in the meanwhile.