However, as voices of protest over his arrest grew, the ruling Congress-NCP government seemed to be distancing itself from the action against the 25-year-old. Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said in New Delhi that they were not in favour of an arrest. While seeking respect for “national symbols”, Tewari said: “I have no hesitation in saying that the arrest is a bit too stretched... over-reaction is certainly not called for.” The police could have admitted the complaint but left the matter for the courts to decide, he added.
Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil said in Nashik that his government had nothing to with the complaint filed against Trivedi and that they were trying to seek his release.
Trivedi himself did not seek bail on Monday when produced before a magistrate. In a statement in Hindi released on his behalf by the India Against Corruption, he said he was not seeking bail because he was proud of what he did and would do it repeatedly. “...Till the time the charges of sedition are dropped against me, I will continue to be in jail,” he stated.
The Kanpur-based cartoonist was arrested on Saturday after he surrendered over a complaint filed in December by a member of the Republican Party of India, Amit Katarnayea. Trivedi was accused of putting up “seditious” banners mocking the Constitution during an Anna Hazare rally in Mumbai last year and posting the same on his website.
He was arrested under IPC Section 124 (sedition), Section 66 A of Information Technology Act and Section 2 of the Prevention of Insults to Nation Honour Act. Police told a Bandra court on Monday that they didn’t need his custody. They also said they couldn’t recover the contentious posters as these had been thrown away.
The cyber cell is conducting investigations into Trivedi’s cartoons on a social networking site, the court was told. Asked by the magistrate if he had any complaint against the police, the cartoonist replied in the negative.
In his statement, distributed by IAC volunteers gathered outside the court, Trivedi said: “If telling the truth is against the country, then I am a traitor... If raising voice against injustice is against the country, then I am a traitor... If the definitions of ‘patriot’ and ‘traitor’ have changed in the course of time, then I am a traitor.”
“I believe in the Constitution as well as Dr B R Ambedkar. Seeing disrespect to the Constitution pains me and I am trying to stop this through my cartoons... I am following the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi... Do not get bothered seeing me inside jail. Remember, Anna Hazare has said that one should go to jail for the sake of nation,” the statement added.
At a press conference in Delhi, IAC member Arvind Kejriwal said while the content of Trivedi’s cartoons — allegedly denigrating national symbols — could be debated upon, he could not be called a traitor.
“I have known him personally for over a year, and he has been fighting against corruption with us. We demand that he be immediately released,” Kejriwal said.
Fellow IAC activist Prashant Bhuushan said Trivedi could not be deemed seditious as he was “not inciting people to violence”. “Further, in his cartoons, he is not disrespecting national symbols like the Constitution or Parliament but merely depicting how others are disrespecting them,” Bhushan said.
Activist Yogendra Yadav said Trivedi’s arrest showed there were now “two democracies” for the people of India. “There is one set of rules for parliamentarians who don’t allow the two Houses to function and cause harm to the country, and another for crusaders like Trivedi.”
However, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said certain ground rules for respect of national symbols have to be followed by all. “We have to balance our right to expression, right to creativity and our respect for national symbols in a harmonious way,” she said. Soni added that the UPA government was not for censorship but self-regulation.