Disturbing trend in direction of country’s governance has become discernible: Constitutional Conduct Group

An open letter by retired senior bureaucrats puts on record that “foundational values of our republic”  have been under “relentless assault of an  arrogant, majoritarian state”

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The Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), a group of former civil servants of the All India and Central Services, including scores of ambassadors, who have worked with the Central and State Governments in the senior most administrative offices, who have been chronicling the trajectory of governance in India, have now concluded, “A disturbing trend in the direction of the country’s governance has become discernible over the past few years.” They share their research and observation through regular Open Letters, that address those in power, as well as the citizens who voted the politicians to power. 

In their letter made public on November 28, Sunday, they write, “The foundational values of our republic and the cherished norms of governance, which we had taken as immutable, have been under the relentless assault of an arrogant, majoritarian state. The sacrosanct principles of secularism and human rights have come to acquire a pejorative sense. Civil society activists striving to defend these principles are subjected to arrest and indefinite detention under draconian laws that blot our statute book. The establishment does its best to discredit them as anti-national and foreign agents.” 

Civil society, the statement endorsed by 102 signatories, describes it as “an important stakeholder in governance, as well as  a force multiplier and partner in the project of meeting popular aspirations”. However, it adds that civil society is “viewed through an adversarial prism today. Any entity, which dares to highlight deviations from the norms of Constitutional conduct, or question the arbitrary exercise of executive  authority, runs the risk of being projected as a foreign agent and enemy of the people. At a systemic level, the financial viability of civil society organisations is being progressively  undermined by tweaking the legal framework governing foreign contributions, deployment of  corporate social responsibility funds and income tax exemptions.”

The former bureaucrats write that their “anxiety with regard to the articulation of the state-civil society interface has been heightened in recent weeks by statements emanating from high dignitaries of the state. On the occasion of the Foundation Day of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), its Chair, Justice (retd.) Arun Mishra, asserted that India’s creditable record on human rights was being tarnished at the behest of international forces. The Prime Minister, on his part, discerned a political agenda in what he felt was selective perception of human rights violation in certain incidents, while overlooking certain others. And quite shockingly, General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff, gave a fillip to the growing menace of vigilantism by endorsing the killing of persons believed to be terrorists by lynch mobs in Kashmir.”

Such statements, they say “indicate a deliberate strategy to deny civil society the  space and wherewithal for its operation. The contours of this strategy have now been revealed  in the New Doval Doctrine propounded by the National Security Adviser (NSA). Reviewing the passing out parade of IPS probationers at the National Police Academy  in Hyderabad, Shri Ajit Doval proclaimed: “The new frontiers of war, what you call the fourth- generation warfare, is the civil society. Wars have ceased to become an effective instrument for achieving political or military  objectives. They are too expensive and unaffordable and, at the same time, there is uncertainty about their outcome. But it is the civil society that can be subverted, that can be suborned, that  can be divided, that can be manipulated to hurt the interests of a nation. You are there to see that they stand fully protected.” 

According to CCG, “Instead of exhorting the IPS probationers to abide by the values enshrined in the Constitution to which they had sworn allegiance, the NSA stressed the primacy of the representatives of the people, and the laws framed by them. It would be pertinent to recall here that the term “fourth-generation warfare” is normally employed in relation to a conflict where the state is fighting non-state actors, such as terror groups and insurgents. Civil society now finds itself placed in this company. Earlier, the term  “Urban Naxal” was being used to denigrate individual human rights activists. Clearly, under  the New Doval Doctrine, people like Father Stan Swamy would become the arch enemy of the  Indian state and the prime concern and target of its security forces.” 

They added that the “NSA’s clarion call for an onslaught on a demonised civil society is of a piece with  the narrative of hate targeting defenders of Constitutional values and human rights that is  regularly purveyed by the high and mighty in the establishment.”

The statement ends with the hope that the government will realize “the pitfalls of demonising dissent and  trying to suppress civil resistance by brute force. It is also hoped that the alumni of the National  Police Academy, or indeed our security forces in general, will not be swayed by the NSA’s  rhetoric and remember that their primary duty is to uphold Constitutional values, which override the will of the political executive. Even the laws framed by the legislatures have to be  tested on the touchstone of constitutionality and accepted by the people.” The entire statement may be read here.



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