Serious Threat to Secularism and Democracy in India
A Timely Warning by Over 100 Very Senior Ex-Bureaucrats
On 26 April over 100 former senior civil servants of India belonging to the Constitutional Conduct Group sent a letter to the Prime Minister drawing attention to the shocking increase in communal violence and government response to this. What is stated in this letter is so important that this should be taken to be a very timely warning to protect the country and its constitution by deeply concerned, extremely sincere and highly well-informed persons.
While all the nearly 108 signatories earlier held very senior positions in the government, what further increases the importance of this letter is that the signatories include those officials (retired) who held very senior positions in the security establishment. The signatories include, for example, such names as Shivshankar Menon, former National Security Adviser; G.K.Pillai, former Home Secretary, Government of India and Shyam Saran, former Chairman, National Security Advisory Board.
When some important events take place, we need very senior and experienced persons with inside knowledge of systems to provide us a proper understanding of these events and what is unfolding. In the present context we could not have asked for a more experienced and better qualified group than this Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG).
To start with the CCG explains what prompted them to take up this challenging and courageous task, “ We are witnessing a frenzy of hate filled destruction in the country where at the sacrificial altar are not just Muslims and members of the other minority communities but the Constitution itself. As former civil servants, it is not normally our wont to express ourselves in such extreme terms, but the relentless pace at which the constitutional edifice created by our founding fathers is being destroyed compels us to speak out and express our anger and anguish.”
So what is at stake is nothing less than “the constitutional edifice” and in addition of course the security of some of the minorities is badly threatened.
The CCG then explains briefly the essence of what has been happening in recent times—“The escalation of hate violence against the minority communities, particularly Muslims, in the last few years and months across several States – Assam, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, all states in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power, barring Delhi (where the union government controls the police) – has acquired a frightening new dimension. It is no longer just the politics of an assertive Hindutva identity, nor the attempt to keep the communal cauldron on the boil – all that has been going for decades and in the last few years had become a part of the new normal. What is alarming now is the subordination of the fundamental principles of our Constitution and of the rule of law to the forces of majoritarianism, in which the state appears to be fully complicit.”
Further this letter says, “The hate and malevolence directed against Muslims seems to have embedded itself deep in the recesses of the structures, institutions and processes of governance in the States in which the BJP is in power. The administration of law, instead of being an instrument for maintaining peace and harmony, has become the means by which the minorities can be kept in a state of perpetual fear. Their constitutional right to practice their own faith, follow their own customs, dress code and personal laws and exercise their own food choices, is threatened not merely by letting vigilante mobs inflict violence on them with impunity but, by twisting the law itself…”
“State power is thus used not only to facilitate vigilante violence targeted against a community but to make ostensibly legal means available to the administration to strike fear in the community, deprive them of their livelihoods and make it evident to them that they have to accept their status as inferior citizens who have to subordinate themselves to majoritarian political power and majoritarian social and cultural norms. The likelihood of our becoming a country that systematically makes sections of its own citizens – minorities, Dalits, the poor and the marginalized – targets of hate and knowingly deprives them of their fundamental rights is now, more than ever, frighteningly real.”
Drawing attention to the most worrying aspect of failure even at high levels this letter adds, “While we are not aware if the current spurt in communal frenzy is coordinated and directed by the political leadership, it is evident that the administration at the state and local levels provides a facilitating environment for mischievous lumpen groups to operate without fear. Such facilitation and support is not limited to that offered by the local police and other administrative officials; it appears to have the tacit approval of the highest political levels in the state and central governments, which provide the enabling policy and institutional environment for local level tyranny. While the actual commission of violence may be outsourced to fringe groups, there is little doubt as to how the ground for their operations is made fertile, how each of them follows a master script and shares a common ‘tool kit’ and how the propaganda machinery of a party as well as the state is made available to them to defend their actions.”
While pointing out the grave threat that has been created recently to the secular fabric of the constitution, this statement adds that “the constitutional and legal framework designed to prevent such a development from taking place is itself being twisted and perverted to make it an instrument of majoritarian tyranny. No wonder then that the bulldozer has now become the new metaphor for the exercise of political and administrative power, literally and figuratively. The edifice built around the ideas of ‘due process’ and ‘rule of law’ stands demolished. As the Jahangirpuri incident shows, even the orders of the highest court of the land appear to be treated with scant respect by the executive.”
This letter by 100 very senior former bureaucrats should be a wake–up call to prevent any further destruction of unique syncretic social fabric-a great civilizational inheritance protected by the Constitution of India-from further damage. This statement has great importance in the context of worldwide concern regarding the erosion and harm suffered by democracy and secularism in India in recent times.
This article first appeared on https://countercurrents.org/