New Delhi, Feb 17
Supreme Court Counsel Rohan J. Alva's 'A Constitution to Keep' (HarperCollins) is a definitive account of the law on sedition in India. Created during British imperial rule with the specific intent to silence those who questioned it, from the mid-1800s until 1947, sedition as sanctified in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code was often used to quell the voice of the people. It rightfully earned the ire of those who fought for India's independence.
A newly Independent India's Constitution made a clean break with the past. It contained a free speech right, which did away with the law on sedition. But then, through a series of events, which include a dramatic Constitutional amendment that altered freedom of speech, Section 124A came back to life.
In 1962, the Supreme Court declared that this law was saved by the Constitution. But, six decades later, in the summer of 2022, the Supreme Court suspended Section 124A and questioned the need for such a law in modern India.
Drawing on a wealth of archival material, Constituent Assembly debates, and Indian and global jurisprudence, 'A Constitution to Keep' traces the history of the law on sedition over the decades. It makes a compelling case for granting heightened constitutional protection to political speech and shows how it can be done while ensuring the purity of national discourse.
Alva says: "The Indian Constitution is a grand document. One of its most important features is the fundamental right to free speech. Yet there is a tension because this important civil right is compelled to coexist with the law on sedition. There is perhaps no other law from the colonial era that has generated as much controversy and interest as the law on sedition."
Mentioning the connection between Sec 124-A and the freedom struggle, Alva adds: "There is perhaps no other law with which the freedom struggle for India's Independence is so intimately intertwined. Today every citizen yearns to understand how the Constitution can be utilised to prevail over such laws."
"I believe my book helps the people to get a good grasp of the issues at stake and appreciate the abiding importance of free speech rights and its role in preserving and improving Indian democracy. The promise of India's freedom lies in the right to free speech. The need for the realisation of this promise is the central message of the book."
Swati Chopra, Associate Publisher, HarperCollins India, says: "With 'A Constitution to Keep', Rohan Alva spotlights an aspect of India's Constitution that is key to the functioning of the country's democracy. A colonial era law that was used to stifle the voice of the people prior to 1947 should have been anomalous in the Constitution of independent India.
"Yet, the law on sedition continues to exist due to legal, political and historical complexities, all of which are explored and explained at length in this book. It should be read by anyone who feels strongly about the health of India's democracy and the right to free speech that should be central to it," Chopra adds.
Rohan J. Alva is a counsel practising in the Supreme Court of India. He graduated with an LL.M. from Harvard Law School, where he focused on constitutional law, and which he read for on numerous scholarships including as a Tata Scholar and on a Harvard Law School Scholarship.
Alva holds a B.A. in History from Loyola College, University of Madras, and an LL.B. from Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi, where he was Editor of the Delhi Law Review. His first book, 'Liberty After Freedom: A History of Article 21, Due Process and the Constitution of India', was published in January 2022.
New Delhi, Feb 17