Mumbai: A government circular in Maharashtra that rewords court guidelines to project a harsher view on what constitutes sedition has provoked outrage in the state.
The circular issued last month is based on the Bombay High Court's guidelines on booking citizens in sedition cases. "Words, signs or representations will be treated as seditious if they are against a representative of the government," it says.
The original court guidelines said that the "words, signs or representations against politicians or public servants by themselves do not fall in this category unless the words/signs/representations show them as representative of the government."
The slight change in wording has made a world of difference allege activists, politicians and comments on social media. The term "representative of the government" can be misused, say activists, to include politicians, which means any critical comment against them can lead to a jail term.
"With this new order the true face of the BJP's senior leaders are exposed," said Dhananjay Munde, a leader of the Nationalist Congress Party.
State officials say they have only translated the court guidelines from English to Marathi.
"We have issued a circular on the basis of a court order... What is prohibited is showing a public servant in bad light," said KP Bakshi, Additional Chief Secretary (Home).
The court had issued the guidelines to check the arbitrary use of the law related to sedition - section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code that prescribes a life term as punishment - and had said that sedition cannot be invoked whenever the government is criticised, unless it leads to violence and public disorder.
"Freedom of speech is in a big trouble in this country if someone wants to express his thought sometime its lands up in protest or a writer is asked not publish his books and even movies are banned," said Aseem Trivedi, who was arrested in 2012 over a critical cartoon. After a nationwide outcry, all charges were dropped against him.