Open letter: arrests of activists – 30 August 2018

                                                                                                              30 August 2018

An Open Letter

We are a group of retired civil servants who came together last year because of our concern over what we saw as an alarming decline in the secular, democratic, and liberal values enshrined in our Constitution. As citizens who have had a close association with issues of public policy and governance and the administering of our Constitution, we felt it was necessary to speak out against the rise in authoritarian and majoritarian tendencies, the abuse of political power and the increasing disregard of constitutional values. We have issued several Open Letters (sometimes in concert with a group of retired veterans of the Armed Forces) and have also together with the veterans organized Conclaves on several issues of public interest. As a group, we are resolutely committed to constitutional values and principles, and are non-political, whatever the political preferences of individual members might be.

We feel compelled to write an Open Letter once again, – in what we perceive as the most brazen display yet of coercive authority by the State.

The arrests of Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao and Arun Ferreira and the raids on the residences of Stan Swamy, Kranti Tekula, Naseem and Anand Teltumbde, all of whom have been in the forefront of the struggle for justice for Adivasis, Dalits, Muslims, members of the working class and women and children (a struggle which has been a continuing one irrespective of which Government has been in power) have been the trigger. They have always used lawful and democratic means in their efforts, and this series of arrests shows how wilful and arbitrary the State is to intimidate and silence any signs of dissent and democratic resistance.

Earlier Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut , Surendra Gadling and Sudhir Dhawale were also arrested under the same charges for inciting violence in the context of Bhima Koregaon, and the same incident.

The use of draconian laws, which deny access and circumscribe the ability of those arrested to access protection of their fundamental rights is completely unjustified. The imposition of this law is a circumvention of the normal processes and allows the flimsiest of evidence to frame charges and arrest those who are politically inconvenient and may threaten powerful commercial interests complicit with the State. It is patently obvious that the objective is to create a climate of fear to deter those in civil society who are critical of the Government’s treatment of Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised and dispossessed groups and may be inclined to take up cudgels on their behalf.

The excuse for such action hinges on a fabricated tale of a “terror” plot against a high functionary in which these allegedly “urban Naxals” play a role. Incidents quoted refer to the Elgar Parishad held earlier in the year in Pune, of which the highly respected Justice P.B. Sawant (former Supreme Court Judge and Chairman of the Press Council) was a key organizer. The vagueness of the allegations, the manner and the timing of the arrests, the choice of the persons arrested (none of whom were a part of the Bhima Koregaon incident), the use of a law which has lower standards of evidence required for establishing a ‘prima facie’ case, all go to show the insidiousness of the intent. The evidence in the public domain against those arrested appears to be incredible. This is shameful.

The charges made against these respected human rights defenders and intellectuals – as broadcast by compliant sections of the media – is that they are supporters of subversive violence, applying to them the newly minted tag of the ‘urban Naxalite’, alleged to be citybased middle-class supporters of Maoist insurgents. That this tag has been applied to a group of persons who have always used lawful and democratic means in their efforts is an example of how wilful and arbitrary the State can be in quelling any signs of dissent and democratic resistance.

It is evident that these arrests follow a pattern designed by the current dispensation to tag any dissident or critical intellectual activity as anti-national or seditious or supportive of secession and terrorism. Ironically, while a ‘Maoist sympathiser’ is treated as a dangerous terrorist who needs to be incarcerated, a sympathiser of Bajrang Dal or Sanatan Sanstha or Hindu Mahasabha, who flaunts the agenda of violence and hate, is seen as pursuing a worthwhile national cause. Coming from a political culture where ministers and legislators who fete and celebrate murder convicts and perpetrators of mob violence are given political support and patronage, this perversion of principles is sickening.

None of us is a supporter of Naxalism or the violent ideology it represents. In fact, as Ramachandra Guha, an eminent public intellectual, historian and a scholar of Gandhi, said in an interview to NDTV, the persons arrested have never preached violence and instead always upheld the rule of law as enshrined in the Constitution. Many of the activists arrested now and earlier in June this year are lawyers, who in representing Adivasis whose rights to natural resources and livelihoods stand expropriated or threatened, have bravely stood against the joint might of the State and its “corporate cronies”. Their record is exemplary and their focus has been unwavering, whether the government was of the Congress or the BJP. For such persons to be charged as instigators of extremist violence is a deliberate official falsehood foisted to damage their reputations, and is truly bizarre and Kafkaesque.

Prime Minister, we know that this, our letter of protest and condemnation, will be given short shrift and we will be told, yet again, that the law must be allowed to take its course. The question, Prime Minister, is of those who govern and misuse the law for promoting partisan politics at the cost of justice; and that must also stand the test of public accountability and the scrutiny of evidence. The refuge that law and order is a State subject, and that the Union has no role, is not convincing enough as the opinions that have led to these arrests have been built up deliberately by a series of statements in the public domain by the current establishment. Yet, Prime Minister, we know that you have the political authority to give suitable directions to a BJP Chief Minister to withdraw the cases and we also know that should it so choose, the Union Government has the constitutional authority to issue appropriate advisories and directives, which have been used many times in your period as PM for a variety of reasons. As the prime executive authority for administering the Constitution, we hope that you will not permit the brazen trampling of the Fundamental Rights of those who work to protect the rights of the poor and the dispossessed.

The Court of course will have to take a view on the legality and the legitimacy of the arrests. But the onus for the administration of the law vests with the union and the state governments. These arrests could not have been made without their prior sanction. As the Head of the Government, we expect nothing less from you than an absolute commitment to upholding the core values of democracy and the principles of justice and fairness. It is time that your party and your government show their determination to stand by and protect our Constitution. Should you choose to ignore our letter, we will know how hollow that commitment is and demonstrate once again your willingness to crush public dissent, especially that which defends the rights of the country’s disadvantaged castes and classes, with the misuse of state agencies and coercive laws.

List of signatories:

  1. Anita Agnihotri IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, GoI
  2. Vappala Balachandran IPS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
  3. Gopalan Balagopal IAS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
  4. Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Coal, GoI
  5. Meeran C Borwankar IPS (Retd.) Former DGP, Bureau of Police Research and Development, GoI
  6. Sundar Burra IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
  7. Som Chaturvedi IRTS (Retd.) Former Additional Member, Railway Board, GoI
  8. Kalyani Chaudhuri IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
  9. Javid Chowdhury IAS (Retd.) Former Health Secretary, GoI
  10. Anna Dani IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
  11. Surjit K. Das IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Uttarakhand
  12. Vibha Puri Das IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI
  13. Nareshwar Dayal IFS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs and High Commissioner to the United Kingdom
  14. Nitin Desai IES (Retd.) Former Secretary and Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance, GoI
  15. Keshav Desiraju IAS (Retd.) Former Health Secretary, GoI
  16. M.G. Devasahayam IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana
  17. Sushil Dubey IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Sweden
  18. Meena Gupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI
  19. Ravi Vira Gupta IAS (Retd.) Former Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India
  20. Sajjad Hassan IAS (Retd.) Former Commissioner (Planning), Govt. of Manipur
  21. Dr. M.A. Ibrahimi IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary (rank), Govt. of Bihar
  22. Ajai Kumar Indian Forest Service (Retd.) Former Director, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI
  23. Arun Kumar IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, GoI
  24. Harsh Mander IAS (Retd.) Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
  25. Lalit Mathur IAS (Retd.) Former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI
  26. Aditi Mehta IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
  27. Sonalini Mirchandani IFS (Resigned) GoI
  28. Sunil Mitra IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI
  29. Deb Mukharji IFS (Retd.) Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and Ambassador to Nepal
  30. Pranab S. Mukhopadhyay IAS (Retd.) Former Director, Institute of Port Management, GoI
  31. Sobha Nambisan IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Secretary (Planning), Govt. of Karnataka
  32. Amitabha Pande IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Inter – State Council, GoI
  33. Niranjan Pant IA&AS (Retd.) Former Deputy Comptroller & Auditor General of India
  34. Alok Perti IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Coal, GoI
  35. N.K. Raghupathy IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Staff Selection Commission, GoI
  36. K. Sujatha Rao IAS (Retd.) Former Health Secretary, GoI
  37. M.Y. Rao IAS (Retd.)
  38. Prasadranjan Ray IAS (Retd.) Former Chairperson, West Bengal Electricity Regulatory Commission
  39. Aruna Roy IAS (Resigned)
  40. Umrao Salodia IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Rajasthan Road Transport Corporation, Govt. of Rajasthan
  41. Deepak Sanan IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Adviser (AR) to Chief Minister, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh
  42. N.C. Saxena IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI
  43. Ardhendu Sen IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
  44. Abhijit Sengupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI
  45. Raju Sharma IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
  46. Jawhar Sircar IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, & CEO, Prasar Bharati
  47. Dr. K.S. Subramanian IPS (Retd.) Former Director General, State Institute of Public Administration & Rural Development, Govt. of Tripura
  48. Hindal Tyabji IAS (Retd.) Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir

 

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