Why is the Indian state so petrified of people who may have a different point of view on issu es pertaining to it? Do people holding diametrically opposite opinions scare the state into a stateless state? Does it think that criticising, say , the Afzal Guru verdict is like indulging in a `gateway drug’ that will lead to things far worse and destructive for the state?
The way the government has reacted to JNU students marking the perceived dubiousness with which Guru’s trial was conducted is nothing short of sociopathic. And, as is the case with all pathologies, the reason for the state’s paranoia has its origin in its childhood.Like Shakespeare whose works so many educated Indians love quoting, `sedition’ is an Elizabethan English invention.The law was an `off with his head!’ item (literally so for Mary `Queen of Scots’ Stuart) to strike down any whiff of rebellion against queen and country . British India got its taste of anti-sedition measures after the Mutiny , when it was imported into the Indian Penal Code in 1870 to outlaw speech that tried to “excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India“.Jogendra Chandra Bose became the first Indian to be charged with sedition in 1891.Not quite the Guy Fawkes, this editor of `Bongobasi’ was arrested for criticising the Age of Consent Bill, stating that it would be destroy India’s religious values. Things on the seditious front picked up with the freedom movement. But the tool would become a real item in the utility kit only after the colonised got to play colonisers with themselves.

JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on Friday for sedition because he was seen raising `anti-national’ slogans. Which, going by the rulebook of Sec tion 124-A of the Indian Penal Code defining the seditious as “whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India …“ can mean anything one chooses to make it mean.

So it is `disaffection’ that is the key word here. “Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by the law. If one has no affection for a person, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemp late, promote or incite to violence,“ said the seditionistMohandas Gandhi.

Many will find the action of JNU students to be a minor matter, a case of disaffected youngsters having their 15 minutes of infamy , buttressing their affection for Che by rallying around Guru. The government is certainly doing its bit to make these students look like Mangal Pandeys.

If home minister Rajnath Singh says, as he did on Friday , that the government “will not tolerate any anti-national activities in the country“ ­ following it up by bragging that he had instructed the Delhi Police “to take strongest possible action against those involved in the incident“ ­ we are indeed dealing with a very sensitive government that conflates dissent with destruction, criticism with crime.

Pond politics, of course, is where such things always start.The FIRs against the students were filed following complaints by BJP MP Maheish Girri and ABVP. But spotting `anti-nationals’, whether those critical of the judicial treatment meted out to a `bona fide’ anti-national, or those sitting through the national anthem, or those drawing cartoons that mock Parliament, is a blood sport not just for the state but also for its obedient-to-a-fault children. It certainly is easier than getting Hafiz Saeeds.

Being seditious has become the slap-tag to describe an ungrateful child of the state, that mutant horror in a country where filial loyalty is blindly pledged and gotten. And where Cordelias, unwilling to `heave one’s heart into one’s mouth’, are made examples of. Not because they threaten the state with turmoil and impotence. But because their dissent is an act of disaffection, a withholding of love that the mai-baap state finds unbearable.