Lal Bahadur Basnett and Section 124-(A) of Indian Penal Code

Late Lal Bahadur Basnet was born on 17th December 1926 at Nazitam, Sang in East Sikkim. Born to Lieutenant (Honorary) Prem Bahadur Basnett and Narbada Devi, Lal Bahadur Basnett is an enigmatic personality of Sikkimese politics. At the age of 4, Late Basnett, along with his parents, left Sikkim for Dehradun (then United Provinces now the Capital of Uttarakhand) and returned to his native land only after 15 years. He got his basic education at Dehradun and went to Ludhiana and admitted to Punjab University for his graduation. After accomplishing his Graduation, in 1945, he went to United Services Pre-Cadet College Belgaum.  He was court-martial from the Army due to his direct and open letter to a High ranking Army Officer. In his letter he stated about “the dissatisfaction prevailing in 2/5 Gurkha Rifles”, which was not engrossed by other high ranking Officers. He was sent for a rigorous three months imprisonment but, later released after spending one and a half months in the jail. After resigning from the Indian Army, he went to Pokhara (Nepal) and served as a school teacher.
He sat for the Sikkim’s first Civil Service Competitive Examinations and qualified the same and was appointed as a Magistrate in 1961. However, within a short period he resigned from the bureaucracy and joined Sikkim National Congress, a political party headed by L.D Kazi and was entrusted with the charge of Joint Secretary. His ideas of democracy and egalitarianism could not stop there.
In 1966, he published series of three articles on the topic of Democracy in Sikkim (Sikkim ma Prajatantra) which ultimately led to the portrayal of Late Basnett as an anti-national. On 10th September 1966, the Joint Secretary of Sikkim National Congress was arrested on a non-bail able warrant for having committed offences of sedition under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.[i] According to Basnett:
The arrest had been occasioned by a series of three articles entitled “Democracy in Sikkim”, published in NOW, a Calcutta Weekly, and a letter written to the Editor, “Hindustan Standard” a Calcutta Daily, on the sensitive subject of Sikkim’s National Anthem[ii].
           According to the reports of Kanchenjunga:
It has come to know that Mr. Basnett had in certain journals and newspaper in Calcutta written articles which have been said to be against the interest of Sikkim. He was arrested under Indian Penal Code Section 124A on the charges of Rajdroha[iii].
It appears that the accused and the General Secretary of Sikkim National Congress had written nothing sensational against the National Anthem of the Kingdom. He had simply tried to draw the attention of the Indian intelligentsia regarding the existing political situation of the Kingdom. An extract of his article is reproduced here:
Now, the ruling house- the Sikkim Durbar- had no intentions to part with its powers and prerogatives which a democratic government would necessarily entail. It restored to the time honoured political weapon of divide and rule....The Sikkim Durbar assiduously applied itself to sowing the seeds of discord among the three communities by playing up the probability of the tyranny of the majority over the minority communities[iv].
In another issue, he continued to criticize the Sikkim Durbar for waiting for an opportunity to impose absolutism in the Kingdom. Mr. Basnett wrote:
The Sikkim Durbar has almost reached the point where its absolute rule has become a glaring fact....So, with absolutism in the saddle, Sikkim continues on the dizzy path of eventual chaos[v].

The only matter that the Durbar had to criticize the writings mentioned above was about the existence of absolutism in the Kingdom, which could be refuted in a usual manner by placing the example of the Executive Council of 1958. However, the arrest of Mr. Basnett gives a clear sketch that how  Sikkim Durbar was working on the “democratization” of the country where a single word against the palace was considered as an act of insubordination.

The lone News based journal Kanchenjunga published the event in the news story with the title ‘National Congress Secretary Arrested’ that too was in an equidistant manner between the democratic and autocratic juxtaposition. It writes
“ would be enough to say that in the history of Sikkim, this is the first case relating to Section 124(A) or treason[vi].
After spending 48 hours in the police custody, Mr. Basnett was taken before the Chief Magistrate on 12th September 1966, and he was released on bail of Rs 100,000.[vii] On 10th April 1967, after the results of Third General Elections Mr. Basnett was acquitted from the charge of treason.

Due to his deviating political views with L.D Kazi he resigned from the Sikkim National Congress and founded Sikkim Janata Party. Though, the party had never been active in the political sphere of Sikkim but, the demands made by Late Basnett and his party cannot be disregarded. After his victory in the election of 1979, he was elected as the Deputy Speaker of Sikkim Legislative Assembly.

[i] Basnett, Lal Bahadur,  (1974) Sikkim A short political history, p 129
[ii] ibid
[iii] Kanchenjunga Vol.6, No.2-3-4, 15th September 1966 pp36, 48/49
[iv] Basnett, Lal Bahadur, ‘Democracy in Sikkim’(Part I) Now, 29th April 1966, Calcutta,p10
[v] Basnett, Lal Bahadur, ‘Democracy in Sikkim’(Part I) Now, 20th May 1966, Calcutta,p9
[vi] Kanchenjunga Vol.6, No.2-3-4, 15th September 1966 pp36, 48/49
Basnett (1974) op cit p130