In light of the recent statements made by the Chief Minister of Haryana calling for the farmers protesting against the three farm laws to be met with violence, YASHASHWINI SANTUKAexplains the perils of such irresponsible statements made by an elected representative of the State.
IN an address to volunteers on October 3, 2021, the Chief Minister of Haryana Manohar Lal Khattar reportedly said, “Pick up sticks and fight those furious farmers. We will see everything. If you stay in jail for two-four months, you will become a big leader”. Additionally, he discussed the concept of “tit for tat,” warning the crowd to create groups of 500 to 700 to 1,000 people, or face jail time.
Since such volunteers could potentially face “two-four months” in prison, it is evident that the Chief Minister of Haryana is acutely aware that such actions by groups of individuals are illegal and punishable under law. Unfortunately, a public official, not less than an elected representative holding the office of the state’s Chief Minister, has purposefully incited violence, in blatant violation of principles enshrined in the Constitution of India and under the applicable law. This is nothing short of reprehensible.
Deepender Singh Hooda, a Rajya Sabha member of the Indian National Congress, has also called for the resignation of Khattar from the Chief Minister’s office. In this regard, Hooda made the following statement: “Haryana CM himself is instigating people to take up sticks and asking for confrontation with farmers. Does CM want riots?“
By invoking these statements in front of the “volunteers”, Khattar has violated his oath to the office. The Chief Minister’s oath to office states:
“I, do swear in the name of God/solemnly affirm that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India, that I will faithfully and conscientiously discharge my duties as a Minister for the State of ___ and that I will do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”
By inciting violence against the protesting farmers, and others who were deemed “protestors sitting despite laws and amendments being passed”, Khattar effectively sought to invoke a certain level of disregard for the protesting farmers and others, while also insinuating that such protests, which are a fundamental right of all citizens under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, are unnecessary and need to be dealt with, with force. Such actions and words not only go against the spirit of the oath he took as the Chief Minister, but also risks the unity and integrity of the people of the country.
Offence of Public Mischief under the Indian Penal Code
Further, Khattar’s statements also incriminate him for offences by manner of speech. His statements “pick up sticks and fight those furious farmers” and “tit for tat” reflect his violent intent and intent to incite violence against a group of protesters. This is generally punishable under Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Under this provision, “Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement or report containing rumour or alarming news with intent to create or promote, or which is likely to create or promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.” [emphasis added by writer]
On a deeper analysis of the government’s stance on this issue, it can also be established that Khattar’s statements were not only meant to incite violence against the protestors, but also to dismiss their wishes and create a feeling of hatred against their ways.
Given that the Chief Minister’s words are not backed by any substantial reasoning but play to the sentiment of the protests being unnecessary and disruptive to legislative functioning, arguably, it may amount to an offence under the abovementioned section, and he may even be liable to be punished for the same.
It is interesting to note that, through his own statement, “If you stay in jail for two-four months, you will become a big leader”, he not only admits that the acts he’s instigating the volunteers to commit are illegal and punishable under the law, but he also implies that such punishment, if meted out, would only make the convicted persons “big leaders”.
By virtue of the above, it is also clear that Khattar engaged in “hate speech” against the protestors through his expression of sentiments against their action.
While his acts do not amount to the offence of “sedition” under the Indian Penal Code, as they were not incited against the government, they are certainly violative of the spirit of the Constitution. In a way, it amounts to a form of dog-whistling on the part of the government, indicating that such violent acts are encouraged to maintain some kind of order with respect to the farmers’ protests, if not to fully stop them from peacefully protesting, which is but a fundamental right.
The requests for his dismissal, therefore, to be considered and perhaps effected under the provisions of the Constitution, would be to maintain peace and order and the spirit of the Constitution. Article 75(2) of the Constitution states that the Minister shall hold office during the pleasure of the President. Whereas, Article 164(1) contains an identical provision in respect of the Governor and his Ministers.
Under these constitutional provisions, as per the constitutional practice of intolerance of hate speech and violence against any community, the statements of the Chief Minister seem extreme and irresponsible, and may accrue offences under the penal law in India. The Governor, in such a case, can request the resignation of the Minister, if deemed necessary.
Such practice has also been carried out in India in the past, wherein Chief Ministers have resigned on various grounds including misdemeanor and corruption.
Additionally, according to British constitutional theorist Geoffrey Marshall in his book Constitutional Conventions, if a government violates a fundamental constitutional convention through an illegal or unconstitutional administrative action, dismissal is acceptable.
It is significant to note that such dismissal should be on valid grounds, such that there is no misuse of powers by the Governor. But in the current political climate, the statements of Khattar clearly reflect his sentiments towards the farmers, the farm laws and the subtle approval of even violence against the protesting farmers, if it remedies the effects of the protest and their supposed disruption.
(Yashashwini Santuka is a third-year B.A. LL.B (Hons.) student at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. The views expressed are personal.)