V-P Dhankhar’s office sends notice to CPM RS MP John Brittas over newspaper article, as BJP leader claims ‘seditious’
CPI(M) MP John Brittas has been served a show-cause notice by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat over an opinion piece in The Indian Express which was critical of Home Minister Amit Shah, after a BJP leader complained to Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar calling it “seditious conduct”.
Sources in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat confirmed that the MP has been summoned, and served a show-cause notice. The complaint was made by P Sudheer, Kerala BJP general secretary, over Brittas’s February 20 opinion piece ‘Perils of Propaganda’, criticising a remark made by Shah on Kerala.
Calling Brittas’s article “highly divisive and polarising”, Sudheer sought “suitable action against the seditious conduct of the member of Rajya Sabha and appropriate steps/ guidelines to prevent further provocative, divisive seditious and communally polarising speeches/articles”.
Brittas told The Indian Express: “I was called for a meeting with the Chairman (Dhankhar) and he sought my views. It was a cordial discussion and I got a chance to explain my stand, and I think he appreciated it.”
Voicing one’s opinion, including via writing, is part of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, Brittas said. “The very nature of the complaint has to be condemned. I hope that the Chairman, who is the custodian of the rights of Rajya Sabha members, will give a befitting response. I am sure our Chairman, who has a sound knowledge about the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, will defend my rights,” he said.
Dhankar’s office refused to comment on the episode. “What transpired at the meeting between the Honorable Chairman and the Members is not for the public,” an official told The Indian Express.
However, sources in the Secretariat said the MP has been asked for a written explanation regarding the article.
Despite repeated attempts, Sudheer could not be contacted.
P D T Achary, former secretary general of the Lok Sabha, said presiding officers of the two Houses of Parliament do not have jurisdiction over such an issue. “If an MP writes an article, the Chairman or the Speaker cannot take any action against him because it is not within the disciplinary jurisdiction of presiding officers,” Achary said.
While addressing a rally in Mangaluru in February, Shah had criticised the “appeasement policies” of the Congress and said it cannot “protect” Karnataka. He added: “There is Kerala in your neighbourhood. I do not wish to speak more. Only the BJP under the leadership of Modi can protect Karnataka.”
Shah’s comment had drawn a sharp reaction from Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who asked Shah to elaborate what he meant.
In his article in The Indian Express titled ‘Perils of Propaganda’, Brittas wrote: “This is not the first time that he (Shah) has made such innuendos against a state whose people have steadfastly rejected his majoritarian politics… Shah’s slur is symptomatic of his penchant for muscular posturing and dislike of a state where the BJP has miserably failed in garnering electoral gains through its usual set of divisive tricks and polarising poll strategies.”
Brittas also wrote: “Shah’s periodic outbursts targeting Kerala are proof of his desperation as well as his attempt to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra and rewind this country to the past, with the Manu Smriti replacing the Constitution. Kerala has tirelessly resisted his party’s designs. “
In his complaint, Sudheer called the article “highly provocative, divisive, seditious and communally polarising”, as it targeted the Home Minister of India. “Brittas, who had been a journalist for many years, was openly exhorting division in the country on grounds of religion and was actively stoking hatred against the Central government,” he wrote.
“The intention of Brittas was to disturb communal harmony and breach public tranquillity, along religious and sectarian lines. Also intended to tarnish the image of our honorable Home Minister… The allegation that the Home Minister of India is trying to replace the Constitution is something serious… The intention of Mr Brittas was to create enmity among the people of Kerala against the Home Minister of India and the Union government,” Sudheer said, going on to seek suitable action for the “seditious conduct” of Brittas.