Saying that free speech and other fundamental rights are under threat, 65 retired senior bureaucrats—in a public appeal—point to the atmosphere that pervades India today. In the open letter, they point to a general spirit of religious intolerance, vigilantism, the propensity to crack down on student groups or universities that express dissent, a witch-hunt against certain NGOs if they oppose the state, systematic trolling to intimidate those who disagree with the dominant ideology, hyper-nationalism, authoritarianism and majoritarianism.
The petition endorsed by 65 retired officers from the Central and All India Services with the oldest being 91-year-old Har Mander Singh, who belongs to the 1953 batch of the IAS.
The prominent names include NC Saxena, former Secretary, Planning Commission; Julio Rebeiro, retired top cop and Ambassador; Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner; Ardhendu Sen, former West Bengal Chief Secretary; and, J Hari Narayan, former Insurance Regulatory Authority Chairman.
The following is the open letter dated June 10, 2017:
We are a group of retired officers of All India and Central Services of different batches, who have worked with the Central and State Governments in the course of our careers. We should make it clear that as a group, we have no affiliation with any political party but believe in the credo of impartiality, neutrality and commitment to the Indian Constitution. A sense of deep disquiet at what has been happening in India has prompted us to write this open letter to chronicle our reservations and misgivings about recent developments in the body politic. What has gone wrong?
It appears as if there is a growing climate of religious intolerance that is aimed primarily at Muslims. In Uttar Pradesh, in the run-up to the elections, an odious and frankly communal comparison was made between the relative number of burial grounds and cremation grounds. The question was also asked as to whether electricity was being supplied equally to different communities during their religious festivals. All this without any basis in fact or evidence. The banning of slaughter-houses targets the minorities and affects their livelihoods as well. Such intolerance breeds violence in a communally charged atmosphere – even to the extent of a local leader in UP provoking an attack upon the residence of a Superintendent of Police, whose family was terrorised.
Vigilantism has become widespread. An Aklaq is killed on the basis of a suspicion that the meat he has is beef and a Pehlu Khan is lynched while transporting to his place two cows he had bought and for which he had the necessary papers. Nomadic shepherds are attacked in Jammu and Kashmir on some suspicion as they practice their age-old occupation of moving from one place to another along with their cattle and belongings. Gaurakshaks function with impunity and seem to be doing so with the tacit complicity or active encouragement of State machinery. Punitive action against the perpetrators of violence does not take place promptly but cruelly, the victims have FIRs registered against them. The behaviour of vigilantes – who act as if they are prosecutor, judge and executioner rolled into one – flies in the face of law and jurisprudence. These actions undermine the rule of law and the Indian Constitution since only the State – through its various organs and institutions – has the power to enforce the law.
Vigilantism has become popular as ‘anti-Romeo’ squads threaten young couples who go out together, hold hands and are perhaps in love with each other. A thinly-veiled effort to prevent a Hindu-Muslim relationship or marriage, there is no justification in law to harass these couples, particularly when there is no complaint from the woman of being ill-treated.
Student groups and faculty members on campuses like Hyderabad and JNU, who raise troubling questions about equality, social justice and freedom are subject to attack by the administration, with a supportive government to back them. In Jodhpur, a planned lecture by a renowned academic was cancelled under pressure and the faculty that organised the event subjected to disciplinary action. What happened in Jodhpur has happened at other institutions as well. Argumentation and discussion about different perspectives – the life-blood not only of institutions of learning but of democracy itself – are being throttled. Disagreement and dissent are considered seditious and anti-national. Such attitudes have a chilling impact on free speech and thought.
Several reputed NGOs and civil society organisations are being charged with violating the provisions of the FCRA and the Income Tax Act. While we agree that genuine violators should be identified and penalised, we note with dismay that several of the targeted groups are those who have taken stands against government policies, expressed dissent or supported communities in cases against the state.
We are also seeing an ugly trend of trolling, threats and online intimidation of activists, journalists, writers and intellectuals who disagree with the dominant ideology. How does this square with free speech?
There is a growing hyper-nationalism that reduces any critique to a binary: if you are not with the government, you are anti-national. Those in authority should not be questioned – that is the clear message.
In the face of a rising authoritarianism and majoritarianism, which do not allow for reasoned debate, discussion and dissent, we appeal to all public authorities, public institutions and Constitutional bodies to take heed of these disturbing trends and take corrective action. We have to reclaim and defend the spirit of the Constitution of India, as envisaged by the founding fathers.
1) Vivek Agnihotri, IAS (Retd), former Secretary General, Rajya Sabha
2) VS Ailawadi, IAS (Retd), former Chairman, Electricity Regulatory Commission
3) SP Ambrose, IAS (Retd), Additional Secretary, Ministry of Shipping and Transport, GoI.
4) Ishrat Aziz, IFS (Retd), former Ambassador to Brazil
5) G Balachandran, IAS (Retd), former Additional Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal
6) N Balachandran, IPS (Retd), former Director General of Police and Chairman, Tamil Nadu Police Housing Corporation, Government of Tamil Nadu
7) G Balagopal, IAS (Retd), former Resident Representative, UNICEF, North Korea
8) Sundar Burra, IAS (Retd), former Secretary, Government of Maharashtra
9) R Chandramohan, IAS (Retd), former Principal Secretary, Urban Development and Transport, Government of NCT of Delhi
10) Kalyani Chaudhuri, IAS (Retd), former Additional Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal
11) Anna Dani, IAS (Retd), former Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra
12) Vibha Puri Das, IAS (Retd), former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI
13) Surjit K Das, IAS (Retd), former Chief Secretary, Government of Uttarakhand
14) Keshav Desiraju, IAS (Retd), former Health Secretary, GoI
15) MG Devasahayam, IAS (Retd), former Secretary to Government of Haryana
16) KP Fabian, IFS (Retd), former Ambassador
17) Bhaskar Ghose, IAS (Retd), former Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, GoI
18) Hirak Ghosh, IAS (Retd), former Principal Secretary, Government of West Bengal
19) Meena Gupta, IAS (Retd), former Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, GoI
20) Ravi Vira Gupta, IAS (Retd), former Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India
21) Wajahat Habibullah, IAS (Retd), former Secretary, GoI, and Chief Information Commissioner
22) Deepa Hari, IRS (Resigned)
23) Vivek Harinarain, IAS (Retd)
24) Dr Sajjad Hassan, IAS (Retd), former Commissioner (Planning), Government of Manipur
25) KK Jaswal IAS (Retd), former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
26) SN Kakar, IAS (Retd), former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Surface Transport, GoI
27) K John Koshy, IAS (Retd), former State Chief Information Commissioner, West Bengal
28) Dhirendra Krishna, IA&AS (Retd), former Financial Controller, Irrigation Department, Government of Uttar Pradesh
29) Ajai Kumar, Indian Forest Service (Resigned), former Director, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI
30) Arun Kumar, IAS (Retd), former Chairman, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority
31) Brijesh Kumar, IAS (Retd), former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
32) Harsh Mander, IAS (Retd), Government of Madhya Pradesh
33) Lalit Mathur, IAS (Retd), former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI
34) Sonalini Mirchandani, IFS (Resigned)
35) Sunil Mitra, IAS (Retd), former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI
36) Deb Mukharji, IFS (Retd), former Ambassador to Nepal
37) Ruchira Mukerjee, P&T Finance Accounts Service (Retd), former Adviser, Telecom Commission, GoI
38) Anup Mukerji, IAS (Retd), former Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar
39) Pranab Mukhopadhyay, IAS (Retd), former Director, Institute of Port Management, GoI
40) Nagalsamy, IA&AS (Retd), former Principal Accountant General, Tamil Nadu and Kerala
41) J Hari Narayan, IAS (Retd), former Chairman, Insurance Regulatory Authority, GoI
42) Amitabha Pande, IAS (Retd), former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI
43) Niranjan Pant, IA&AS (Retd), former Deputy Comptroller and Accountant General of India
44) Alok Perti, IAS (Retd), former Secretary, Ministry of Coal, GoI
45) Dr KR Punia, IAS (Retd), former Principal Secretary, Government of Haryana
46) TR Raghunandan, IAS (Retd), former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, GoI
47) NK Raghupathy, IAS (Retd), former Chairman, Staff Selection Commission, GoI
48) C Babu Rajeev, IAS (Retd), former Secretary, GoI
49) V Ramani, IAS (Retd), former Director General, YASHADA, Government of Maharashtra
50) Julio Rebeiro, IPS (Retd), former Adviser to Governor of Punjab and Ambassador to Romania
51) Sayeed Rizvi, IAS (Retd), former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, GoI
52) Aruna Roy, IAS (Resigned)
53) Manab Roy, IAS (Retd), former Additional Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal
54) Umrao Salodia, IAS (Retd), former Chairman, Rajasthan State Roadways Transport Corporation, Government of Rajasthan
55) Deepak Sanan, IAS (Retd), former Principal Adviser (AR) to the Chief Minister of the Government of Himachal Pradesh
56) EAS Sarma, IAS, (Retd), former Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, GoI
57) Dr NCSaxena, IAS (Retd), former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI
58) A Selvaraj, IRS, former Chief Commissioner, Income Tax, Chennai, GoI
59) Ardhendu Sen, IAS (Retd), former Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal
60) Rahul Sharma, IPS (Retd), Government of Gujarat
61) Dr Raju Sharma, IAS (Retd), former Member, Board of Revenue, Government of Uttar Pradesh
62) Har Mander Singh, IAS (Retd), former Director General, ESI Corporation, GoI
63) Jawhar Sircar, IAS (Retd), former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, and CEO, Prasar Bharati
64) Sudershan K Sudhakar, IAS (Retd), former Secretary, Government of Punjab
65) Geetha Thoopal, IRAS (Retd), former General Manager, Metro Railway, Kolkata.