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Congress Manifesto: Declaration of disastrous legal reforms and a tale of contradictions

The Congress manifesto is misleading the nation on issues where the Supreme Court has already upheld the constitutional validity of legal issues. There is no new finding and innovation in the manifesto and it looks like old wine in a new bottle.

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Siddharth Acharya
Siddharth Acharya is an advocate practising in Supreme Court of India and National Company Law Tribunal. He is a lawyer by profession but a documentary film-maker and writer by passion. Siddharth has done some commendable documentary films on Jammu and Kashmir like The Abandoned Cranes on Kashmiri Pandits and Article 35 a and Unspoken Catastrophe on plight of West Pak refugees.

Congress being the oldest national party in this country has come up with its national manifesto and had raised a wide variety of controversial topics to cater to a particular vote-bank and ideology. Congress has claimed to be a centric party but how pretentious centric party claim can actually leave you in abeyance, this manifesto is a perfect example of that. Here, I have presented a brief analysis of the self-contradictory view of Congress towards legislation and laws which it aims to reform and revamp: 

Establishment of Court of Appeals

Supreme Court is a constitutional court and only determines the constitutional questions of law. The court of appeal beneath the Supreme Court and above High Court will make the procedure excessively cumbersome and litigants will face harassment and end up paying unnecessarily in one more forum. In the times, when we have specialised and niche tribunals for a variety of matters ranging from Company Disputes, Environment, Civil and Criminal matters, this suggestion comes as an excessively chaotic interpretation of judicial system. It is imperative that there is absolutely no need for an extrajudicial system to create more pressure on litigants as it is clearly a retrogressive development which Congress is aiming at.

Another grey area where this is going to be creating complexity is by creating conflict of jurisdictions. We have come a long way from the colonial system of justice and it will definitely be a step backwards.

Women’s Reservation Bill

Commonly known as the Women’s Reservation Bill, it seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies. Introduced by the UPA-I government in May 2008, it also provides that one-third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups.

The Bill showcased the political will and intent of Congress regime back then but eventually bill was not passed despite the fact that Congress got 206 seats in 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Women were involved in the early establishment of the BJP. The BJP has encouraged greater representation of women by developing women’s leadership programs, financial assistance for women candidates, and implementing a 33% reservation for women in party leadership positions. BJP has received women’s support by focusing on issues such as the Uniform Civil Code to extend equal rights to women and men regardless of religion. They have also spoken out against violence against Indian women.

Congress has over the years contradicted its own stand and has backtracked on its electoral promise and now bringing this in the manifesto is a mere eyewash.

Repeal of Sedition and Criminal Defamation

Section 124 A of the IPC deals with the Sedition. Now, Congress has ruled India over 60 years since Independence and shall be credited for misusing the law more than anyone. 

Congress misused Sedition Law during its tenure. Thousands of sedition cases were filed against citizens during the 10-year UPA rule alone. Take the case of agitation against the nuclear power plant at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu. A fact-finding team comprising journalists and civil society members had found that FIRs were registered against 55,795 people and around 23,000 agitators were arrested, while sedition charges were slapped against around 9,000 of them for “waging war against the Government of India”. UPA Government holds a record of filing highest number of cases.

Whether it was Aseem Trivedi (Cartoonist), Binayak Sen(Professor) or Raj Thackeray (Politician), everybody from different facets of public life faced the wrath of Macaulay’s colonial legislation. Congress has received this legislation as a legacy but now because of political compulsions and cater to a particular vote-bank, Congress has again taken policy U-turn.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and his media associates like The Wire have been prosecuted under Criminal Defamation case due to their allegations in bringing disrepute to RSS and Modi Government. The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of the country’s colonial-era criminal defamation laws, ruling that they are not in conflict with the right to free speech.

The judgement will put politicians and media figures, some of whom are already facing charges of criminal defamation, on the defensive. Some expressed concern that it could muzzle freedom of speech.

The apex court concluded there will be “no chilling” effect on the latter because of criminal sanctions.

Dissent is required, but it does not grant an unfettered right to damage a reputation, said a bench comprising justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C. Pant.

Rahul Gandhi also filed a writ challenging criminal defamation which was disposed of by Supreme Court. The manifesto shows disrespect of Congress towards apex constitutional court.

Amendment of AFSPA

AFSPA has to be credited as the reason why Kashmir and insurgency-affected areas of North-east are still an integral part of India. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of AFSPA in Extra-Judicial Execution Families Association v/s. Union of India. It was held by both Honorable Judges that We are aware that this decision does not make it easier to deal with that reality. This is the fate of democracy, as not all means are acceptable to it, and not all methods employed by its enemies are open to it. Sometimes democracy must fight with one hand tied behind its back. Nonetheless, it has the upper hand. Preserving the rule of law and recognition of individual liberties constitute an important component of its understanding of security. At the end of the day, they strengthen its spirit and strength and allow it to overcome its difficulties.”

Supreme Court in its tone is loud and clear on upholding the constitutionality of the Act. However, the Interlocutory Committee Report presented by the Home Ministry in UPA Government had echoed the same views under the presidentship of Dilip Pedgaonkar. The then Home Minister Chidambaram also subscribe to the same views and this is definitely a threat to Indian Nationalism and unity and integrity.

The Congress manifesto is misleading the nation on issues where the Supreme Court has already upheld the constitutional validity of legal issues. There is no new finding and innovation in the manifesto and it looks like old wine in a new bottle.

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Siddharth Acharya
Siddharth Acharya is an advocate practising in Supreme Court of India and National Company Law Tribunal. He is a lawyer by profession but a documentary film-maker and writer by passion. Siddharth has done some commendable documentary films on Jammu and Kashmir like The Abandoned Cranes on Kashmiri Pandits and Article 35 a and Unspoken Catastrophe on plight of West Pak refugees.

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