PM is leader of India, not one religious group: retd civil servants in statement

The Constitutional Conduct Group has issued an open statement expressing concern at the 'growing influence of religion in state and society'

PM Modi receives his invite to the pran pratishtha in Ayodhya (photo: @ShriRamTeerth/X)
PM Modi receives his invite to the pran pratishtha in Ayodhya (photo: @ShriRamTeerth/X)

NH Digital

The Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), a citizens' initiative comprising several former civil servants, has issued an open statement expressing concern at the 'growing influence of religion in state and society'. Signed by 65 retired IAS (Indian Administrative Service), IPS (Indian Police Service), and IFS (Indian Foreign Service) officers, the statement expresses "deep disquiet about the manner in which the Indian state was closely associated with the consecration ceremony of the Shri Ram Temple in Ayodhya on 22 January 2024".

The CCG has in the past issued similar statements on matters of national relevance, including an open letter to President Droupadi Murmu in November 2023, regarding the controversy related to the autonomous functioning of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), intended to function as a government watchdog.

The group's latest statement, released on 8 February, assumes significance in light of the demolition of the 600-year-old Akhunji mosque in Delhi on 30 January, and the demolition of a mazar (enshrined tomb) and madrasa in Haldwani in Uttaranchal on 9 February, leading to clashes that left at least four dead and several injured.

CCG's statement reads, "All persons, including public officials, are free to follow their religious beliefs. However, it is imperative for public officials to be mindful to carefully separate their religious beliefs and practices from their official duties. This is especially important for a person holding the high constitutional office of Prime Minister, as the leader not just of people of one religious identity but of all people of India of diverse religious beliefs."

This is an obvious reference to the prominent role played by PM Narendra Modi in the days leading up to the pran pratishtha or consecration of the temple in Ayodhya, and the manner in which the PM conflated national interest with the opening of a grand temple that epitomises Hindu majoritarian beliefs.

As the signatories to the statement point out, "The event brings to our mind the advice given by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to President Rajendra Prasad at the inauguration of the reconstructed Somnath Temple in Gujarat at a juncture when the wounds of Partition were still healing in the subcontinent: 'This is not merely visiting a temple, which can certainly be done by you or anyone else, but rather participating in a significant function which unfortunately has some implications'."

The statement also points to the Supreme Court ruling of 9 November 2019, in which it was clearly stated that "Muslims have been wrongly deprived of a mosque which had been constructed well over 450 years ago".

The CCG drives home the point that the consecration of the temple has led to "the incidents at Mira Road in Maharashtra and some other places in the country... a wholly unnecessary show of triumphalism by certain elements from the Hindu community leading to reactions from elements from the Muslim community". The reference here is to the recent communal riots in Mumbai's Mira Road suburb, where a single ground houses a Hindu crematorium, a Muslim kabristan (graveyard) and a Christian cemetery.

This harmony was disturbed on the evening of 22 January, when several primarily Muslim-owned shops were attacked with sticks and stones for not flying the saffron Ram flags on the day of the pran pratishtha. The next day, when a procession was taken out by Ram bhakts, the stoning was returned by the victims, and the clashes escalated to a full-blown communal riot.

While nobody died, 19 persons were arrested and the BJP-led Maharashtra government sent bulldozers even into areas adjoining Mira Road to raze so-called illegal shops owned by Muslims, some of which have been in existence for two decades or more.

The CCG statement refers to all such issues when it says, "the efforts over the past few days to raise fresh issues concerning the religious faith of the two communities — Gyan Vapi mosque at Varanasi, Krishna Janmabhoomi at Mathura, the conduct of the Shah Jahan Urs at the Taj Mahal and the Haji Malang dargah at Kalyan (Maharashtra) — are unnecessary irritants to social peace and harmony at a time when so many more important issues confront the nation.

"Nor have matters been helped by the unnecessary haste shown by the authorities in Delhi in demolishing the Mehrauli dargah and madrasa and raising the issue of the removal of the Sunehri Bagh Masjid in the heart of New Delhi ostensibly on grounds of streamlining traffic flow. Surely, government agencies should have a sense of propriety to know when to bring up contentious issues."

The statement ends with a repeat plea for the separation of religion from State. "It is the primary responsibility of the Union Government and the State Governments to maintain an equal distance from all religions, inculcate in their citizens the principle of fraternity enjoined by the Preamble to the Constitution of India and apply strictly the rule of law in ensuring that all citizens conduct their day to day affairs as laid down by the Constitution of India and the laws thereunder."

With many observers pointing to the growing politicisation of the Indian bureaucracy, this statement by a group of civil servants assumes additional importance.

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Published: 11 Feb 2024, 2:32 PM