India’s main opposition pledges to scrap sedition law

CHANDIGARH (AA): India’s main opposition Congress party on Tuesday released its election manifesto, pledging to remove the colonial-era sedition law if it wins forthcoming elections in the country.

The party election manifesto came ahead of the country’s general election, which will be held in seven stages starting on April 11.

The Indian government has faced a huge criticism, for charging people under sedition law in the country. Earlier this year, Indian police charged at least 10 students for alleged “anti-national” sloganeering at a Kashmir-related event in New Delhi in 2016.

“Omit Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (that defines the offence of ‘sedition’) that has been misused and, in any event, has become redundant because of subsequent laws,” the Congress said in the manifesto.

Among the other promises made by the party on Tuesday include filling up hundreds of thousands of vacant jobs and decriminalization of nonpayment of farm loans.

The Congress has also announced to review the controversial Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), a law which grants impunity to Indian armed forces accused of abuses.

“Amend the Armed Forces (Special Powers)  Act, 1958 in order to strike a balance between the powers of security forces and the human rights of citizens and to remove immunity for enforced disappearance, sexual violence and torture,” the manifesto said.

The party has also promised to do away the section 499 of Indian Penal Code(IPC), which make defamation a criminal offense.

“The last 5 years have been disastrous for the people of India. The youth have lost jobs. Farmers have lost hope. Traders have lost business. Micro, small and medium enterprises have lost their confidence. Women have lost the sense of security. Deprived communities have lost their traditional rights. Institutions have lost independence,” Congress president Rahul Gandhi wrote in the manifesto.

To eliminate abject poverty by 2030, under the Minimum Income Support Programme (MISP) or Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY), the party has said five crore families which constitute the poorest 20 percent of all families, will be provided with Rs 72,000 ($1,044) annually.

To deal with the hate crimes in the country, the party has announced to bring a new law.

“We will pass a new law […] to prevent and punish hate crimes such as mob-engineered stripping, burning and lynching. The law will contain provisions to compensate the victims and to hold accountable the police and district administration for proven negligence,” the report has said.

For the defense sector, the party has said, they will “reverse the trend of declining defence spending […] and will ensure that defence spending is increased to meet the requirements of the Armed Forces”.

– Government’s reaction

The government has dubbed the manifesto as “a charter to weaken India”.

“2019 Congress Manifesto is a Charter to Weaken India. After reading Congress Manifesto my worst fears have come true. The repeal of S.124A of the IPC, diluting AFSPA & “bail is the rule jail is the exception” for terrorists & hardcore criminals will compromise national security,” India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in a Twitter post.

“Some of the ideas are positively dangerous in the Congress manifesto. They are for an agenda for the Balkanisation of India,” local daily Hindustan Times reported Jaitley as saying at a news conference in New Delhi.