New on my other blogs

A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel


18 July, 2017

Confrontation on the Himalayas

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Memories of the border war of 1962 came alive briefly during the past month as armies of India and China faced each other at Doklam, at their trijunction with Bhutan, nestling at a height of 8,000 feet in the Himalayas.

The standoff has not ended but after some acerbic exchanges, mostly through the media, the two sides have toned down the rhetoric and voiced readiness to resolve the issue through talks. However, the talks may not come any time soon as China, which has settled its border disputes with all other neighbours, appears to be in no hurry to demarcate its borders with India and Bhutan.

The India-China border is about 4,000-kilometres long. Of this, only the 220-km Sikkim-Tibet segment is free from dispute. While rejecting the McMahon line that separated Tibet from India’s northeast as a British imposition, China had accepted the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890 which defined the Sikkim-Tibet border.

In an agreement concluded in 1996 India and China committed themselves to peaceful resolution of the border dispute. So far there have been 18 rounds of talks, with little to show.

Bhutan, the world’s only remaining Buddhist kingdom, is a small country with an area of 38,394 square kilometres and a population of less than 800,000, which took to the path of democracy a decade ago.  While other nations seek to raise their gross national product, it seeks to boost gross national happiness.

Bhutan has an undemarcated 470km-long border with China’s Tibet region. Kuomintang China had claimed a part of Bhutan’s territory and Communist China chose to keep the claim alive. After more than 20 rounds of talks the border dispute remains unresolved.

When Britain ruled India, Bhutan and Sikkim were its protectorates. After gaining freedom India readjusted its ties with them.

Sikkim was made a state of India in 1975 at the instance of the Sikkim National Congress which came to power in the elections held the previous year.

Under an agreement with Bhutan in 1949 India virtually took over the role performed by the colonial regime and undertook to assist it in foreign relations. A friendship treaty signed in 2007 recast the relations on a new basis. In it the two countries pledged to cooperate closely on issues where their national interests are involved and not allow the use of their territories for activities harmful to each other’s national security.

While Bhutan has maintained close ties with India since the colonial period, it has avoided establishing diplomatic relations with China. After joining the United Nations in 1971 it established diplomatic relations with more than 50 countries but it has not allowed China and the four other permanent members of the Security Council to establish missions in its capital Thimpu.

It hurts Beijing’s pride that this tiny neighbour rebuffs its pleas for diplomatic relations. Also, along with India, it has kept out of China’s One Road, One Belt scheme.

Doklam, the scene of the stand-off, is a plateau which the People’s Liberation Army occupied as it swept through Tibet after the Revolution. In 2000 Thimpu belatedly pointed out that the place belongs to it.

The standoff is the result of the Indian army’s stepping in to challenge the building of a new road which will give China easy access to the miniscule Bhutan army’s base and – from New Delhi’s standpoint, more importantly – to the Siliguri Corridor, the chicken’s neck that connects India’s northeastern states with the mainland.

When Chinese troops poured down through the mountain passes in 1962, India had feared they would cut off the northeast, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had voiced his anguish on that score in a broadcast.

In the recent past India and China had made a series of moves leading to cooling of the ardour witnessed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s early meetings with President Xi Jinping. China is wary of India’s growing relations with the United States and India is wary of China’s hegemonic ambitions.

At one point the Chinese side reminded India of its painful 1962 experience. Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said India of 2017 was not India of 1962. The remark invited a retort from Beijing that China of 2017 was not China of 1962.

After Chinese troops swooped down the hills in 1962, forcing Indian soldiers to retreat, Beijing had announced a quick unilateral withdrawal of forces. The pullout was dictated not so much by altruistic factors as by logistical considerations. The Himalayas are no place to fight a prolonged war but offer pressure points that can be activated in case of need. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 18, 2017.

11 July, 2017

Waltzing through the Middle East

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Narendra Modi, who has set a few globe-trotting records, last week became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. “We have waited 70 years for you,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he embraced him.

The Israeli authorities extended to Modi the kind of welcome that was given previously only to the Pope and the President of the United States, and the world media has since been trying to unravel the meaning of what one writer described as his “public love fest” with Netanyahu.

When the United Nations proposed carving the state of Israel out of Palestine in 1948, India had pleaded in vain for a two-state solution. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said Zionists had offered bribes to win India’s support and held out threats to his sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, who was the leader of the Indian delegation to the UN.

When the state of Israel became a reality India recognised it but refrained from establishing full-scale diplomatic relations with it in a gesture of solidarity with the Palestinians. However, Israel was allowed to establish an honorary consulate in Mumbai to look after commercial and cultural matters.

During the 1962 border war with China, Nehru turned to Israel for small arms and it readily helped. Today India, the world’s largest importer of arms, buys about 40% of Israel’s arms exports.

The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the fountainhead of the Hindutva ideology which is the driving force behind Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, was initially an ardent admirer of Hitler and Mussolini. After World War II, impressed by the high-handed measures Israel took for survival in an extremely hostile environment, it switched its admiration from Fascism to Zionism.

Over the last four decades, relations with Israel have grown steadily, more rapidly under non-Congress governments than under those led by the Congress, which is more alive to the sensitivities of the Arab world and of India’s own Muslim minority.

When the Janata Party was in power and AB Vajpayee was the External Affairs Minister, Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan visited India secretly. That government fell before it could take any meaningful step to boost bilateral relations.

In 1988, the Rajiv Gandhi government granted recognition to the state of Palestine and four years later the Narasimha Rao government raised diplomatic relations with Israel to ambassadorial level.

While improving relations with Israel, the Indian government reiterated its commitment to Palestine. It also extended continued support to the Palestinian cause in international forums. Indian leaders visiting Israel included the Palestinian Authority headquarters at Ramallah also in their itinerary.

A year ago India abstained on a UN Human Rights Council resolution critical of Israeli actions against Palestinians. Some observers have interpreted this and Modi’s failure to go to Ramallah as clear signs of a pro-Israeli shift in India’s position in tune with the RSS thinking.

International media quoted a Palestinian official as saying India’s relationship with Israel appeared to be developing at the cost of its moral, humanitarian and historic commitment to Palestine.

Indian officials, however, maintain that decoupling of Israel and Palestine does not make any material difference to India’s traditional policy. They point out that Modi had received Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in New Delhi in May. On that occasion he had reaffirmed India’s unwavering support to the Palestinian cause and expressed the hope “to see the realisation of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine coexisting peacefully with Israel”.

Modi has waltzed through 49 countries so far. He has chosen his destinations with due regard for traditional ties as well as new realities. 

Hindutva’s ideological affinity apart, military and economic considerations are driving India and Israel closer together. Since Modi came to power, India has reportedly bought $662 million worth of arms from Israel. It has also signed several defence deals, including one for the purchase of a missile defence system costing $2 billion.

India, which is facing the prospects of acute water shortage, hopes to benefit from Israel’s farming and water technology innovations. One of the agreements signed during Modi’s visit envisages the setting up of a $40 million fund for joint research and development projects.

Israel appears to be looking to India for a political dividend in the form of greater respectability for itself. --Gulf Today, July 11, 2017.

04 July, 2017

Indian common market is born

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With the catchy slogan “One Nation, One Tax, One Market”, the Indian government ushered in a new national tax regime at a midnight ceremony last week.

Unlike demonetisation of high-value currency, undertaken eight months ago without adequate preparations, the tax reform was launched after long deliberations.

The new tax regime is essentially a continuation of the reforms initiated by Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister in PV Narasimha Rao’s government a quarter-century ago. It will benefit foreign firms setting up facilities in the country by providing a uniform tax structure regardless of where they are located.

The first step towards introduction of a national goods and services tax (GST) scheme was taken by Prime Minister AB Vajpayee in 2000 when he set up a panel to design a suitable model. Strong opposition from state governments, which feared loss of revenue as well as limitations on their taxation powers, made the going tough.

Modi, who, as Chief Minister of Gujarat state, had stood against the Manmohan Singh government’s bid to introduce GST, changed his stand on becoming the Prime Minister and decided to push it as part of his economic reform package. Replying to Opposition taunts about the shift in his position, he said he had some misgivings about the scheme. As a Prime Minister who had been a Chief Minister he could address the states’ concerns on the issue, he added.

In 2015 the Modi government set April 1, 2016 for rolling out GST. The Constitution needed to be amended to introduce it. The ruling coalition could easily get the amending bill through the Lok Sabha, where it has a majority. It was not until August 2016 that it could enlist the support of the Congress which was necessary to push the bill through the Rajya Sabha.

The Centre still had to conduct tricky negotiations with the states to work out details of the new tax regime. It is entitled to credit for completing the process speedily and making GST a reality by July 1.

Conceived as a multi-stage, destination-based tax, GST is levied on every value addition. The final consumer, it is claimed, will bear only the GST charged by the last dealer in the supply chain.

Does that mean the consumer will pay less for goods and services? Or will he end up paying more? There is no simple, straight answer to the question.

Contradictory trends are already in evidence. Some items now cost more and some others less. The biggest automobile producer announced a three per cent cut in the prices of some models, supposedly to pass on GST benefits to the customers, but hiked the prices of some other models by Rs 100,000.

With an estimated population of 1.34 billion, India constitutes a big market. As the national economy is growing rapidly, the market bids fair to be even bigger. But the “one nation, one tax” bit is not quite true.

There are actually three GSTs – a Central GST, a State GST and an Integrated GST – levied by the Centre on inter-state supply of goods and services. Also, there is wide variation in the tax rates.

There is no levy on several items and bullion attracts a low three per cent tax. Four slabs, of five per cent, 12 per cent, 18 per cent and 28 per cent, have been fixed for other goods and services. There is also a cess to raise money to compensate the states for revenue loss.

No other country with a GST regime has so complex a tax structure and such high rates as India has opted for. The rate is six per cent in Malaysia, seven per cent in Singapore, seven and a half per cent in the US, 15 per cent in New Zealand, 17 per cent in China and 19 per cent in Germany. Brazil has two rates: seven per cent and 12 per cent.

Economic analysts have said that the GST scheme is full of imperfections. One of them is the compromise with the states which has resulted in the exclusion of petroleum products, liquor and real estate development from GST.

The coming weeks will show if the preparations made for the switch to the new tax regime were adequate or will bring needless suffering to the people, as happened with the demonetisation programme. It did not yield the anticipated benefits but caused immense hardship to the people, especially the poor. --Gulf Today, July 4, 2017. 

27 June, 2017

Lynch mobs on the loose

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

On the night of Laylat al-Qadr, while the devout were listening to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s words in Srinagar’s Juma Masjid, a few metres away a group of youths lynched to death Mohammed Ayub Pandith, a deputy superintendent of police. Six hours earlier Junaid, a teenager from Ballabhgarh in Haryana, who was returning home with his brothers after a shopping trip to Delhi, was stabbed to death in a train.

The two incidents are symptomatic of the culture of violence which has spread across India in the recent past and assumed menacing proportions in some states.

The Srinagar incident was part of the renewed violence in trouble-torn Kashmir. The youths raising pro-Pakistan slogans apparently mistook Ayub Pandith, who was in civilian clothes, for an informer.

The holy month of Ramadan was a deadly one for the valley with official reports putting the death toll at 42-27 militants, eight policemen, six civilians and one army man.

Junaid was a hapless victim of the violence unleashed by Hindutva groups created or inspired by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological parent, after Narendra Modi led the party to power in May 2014.

The Hindutva elements have targeted three categories of people: students of institutions of higher learning where Left-wing and Ambedkarite organisations have held the BJP-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad at bay, members of minority communities, particularly Muslims, and Dalits.

The ABVP stirred up trouble in the campuses accusing rival student bodies of anti-national activities. The Hindutva outfits began hounding Muslims and Dalits alleging cow slaughter, beef eating etc.

Organised Hindutva violence actually began before the 2014 elections. The victims included three prominent rationalists, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, both of Maharashtra, and MM Kalburgi, of Karnataka, who were killed between 2013 and 2015.

Violence directed against Muslims in the Meerut area of Uttar Pradesh led to communal polarisation in the state and benefited the BJP in the 2014 parliamentary elections as well as this year’s assembly elections. Quite recently there was targeted violence against Dalits in the Saharanpur area.

The RSS, which was under ban thrice after Independence – after Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, during the Emergency in 1975-77 and after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 – has now assumed an active role in matters of governance. Modi and the new crop of BJP chief ministers like Yogi Adityanath of UP, are erstwhile RSS pracharaks (promoters). Their presence in the citadels of power has emboldened communal outfits to take the law into their own hands. The police force has been slow in acting against the Hindutva elements even in non-BJP states.

Under Modi’s rule, lynching has emerged as Hindutva’s favourite modus operandi. There is no official data on the incidence of this horrendous form of violence. One of the early lynchings which attracted national attention was that of Mohammed Akhlaq, at Dadri in UP, just about 40 kilometres from Delhi, in 2015 on a false charge of cow slaughter. Unofficial tabulations indicate there has been at least a score of such incidents since then. Barring three Hindus who were among seven cattle traders killed in Jharkhand, all known lynch victims are Muslims or Dalits.

Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi claimed that lynchings were over-hyped and over-reported. However, he gave no figures to substantiate the claim.

Official figures do not bear out the popular impression that there has been a spurt in violence since Modi took over. In fact, the National Crime Records Bureau’s reports show that fewer crimes were registered in 2015, the first full year of Modi rule for which data is available, than in 2014. Cases of murder dropped from 33,981 to 32,127, rape from 36,735 to 34,651, rioting from 66,042 to 65,255, atrocities against Dalits from 47,064 to 45,003 and atrocities against Adivasis from 11,451 to 10,914.

There are two possible explanations for the divergence between the popular perception and the government data. One is that while the Hindutva gangs went on a rampage other miscreants were unusually quiet, leading to an overall decline in crime. The other is that just as production figures are fudged to present a rosy picture of the economy the crime data may be tweaked to yield a bright picture of the law and order situation.

Modi, who is a tireless social media campaigner, has not written one word against the lynchings. The RSS, which has a reputation for maintaining high discipline, too has not said anything. Their silence and the police’s passivity are tending to aggravate the situation. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 27, 2017.

20 June, 2017

Privacy concerns over ID card

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Over the past eight years the Indian government has gone ahead with a scheme to issue a unique identity card to all citizens, brushing aside widespread concerns over their right to privacy. On more than one occasion the Supreme Court said it cannot be made mandatory but the authorities are pushing ahead with it.

The United Progressive Alliance government created the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) in 2009 and charged it with the task of issuing unique identification numbers, to be known as Aadhaar, to all residents of India. It said Aadhaar would help check leakage in various welfare measures resulting from the prevalence of fake ID cards.

Several civil society organisations objected to the scheme, fearing it would lead to surveillance of citizens. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which was then in the opposition, shared their concern. It called the scheme a fraud and blocked the passage of a law to give the UIDAI statutory backing.

Nevertheless, the UPA government went ahead with the scheme. Not many people applied for Aadhaar. The government got over the problem by deciding to issue Aadhaar to all those who had provided personal particulars and biometric data for preparation of the National Population Register under the Citizenship Act of 1955.

The process was going on when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government came to power. Reversing the position his party had taken earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to go ahead with the Aadhaar scheme.

He gave the UIDAI statutory status by pushing through Parliament a measure styled as Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act. To overcome the disability resulting from the NDA’s lack of a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the measure was labelled as a money bill. The upper house has no power to make changes in a money bill.

As the government linked Aadhaar with various welfare schemes, citizens sought intervention by the courts. So far there has been no conclusive court ruling.

On several occasions the Supreme Court said Aadhaar should not be made mandatory. Once it asked the government to advertise widely that it is not mandatory to obtain an Aadhaar card. At the same time it let the government link various schemes with Aadhaar.

In 2015, the apex court said the Aadhaar scheme is purely voluntary and “cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this Court one way or another”. It has set up a constitution bench to take that final decision but it is yet to hear the matter.

Early this month the government issued a notification making linking of Aadhaar with bank accounts and the permanent account number cards issued by the Income Tax department mandatory. It also made Aadhaar mandatory for making bank deposits of more than Rs 50,000.

The government claimed these steps would help weed out fake and fraudulent transactions.

The Supreme Court let the notification stand but ruled that it would not be applicable to those who do not have an Aadhaar card or have not applied for one until the constitution bench decides the privacy question.

The Aadhaar Act prohibits sharing, publishing, displaying or public posting of the core biometric information collected under the project except in the interest of “national security”, which remains undefined. However, some recent reports have raised doubts about the way the government handles the information in its possession.

The Centre for Internet and Society, a non-profit interdisciplinary research organisation, recently revealed a few instances in which agencies under the Centre and the Andhra Pradesh government published on their websites data which could potentially compromise the interest of more than 130 million Aadhaar cardholders and 100 million bank account holders.

According to media reports, the Jharkhand government has made public personal details of 1.4 million persons who have linked their Aadhaar numbers with bank accounts to facilitate direct transfer of their monthly pensions. A private and two firms are currently facing charges of cyber crime for hacking and breaching the privacy of Aadhaar data.

Aadhaar may not spell the end of fake identities. India’s population, which stood at 1,210 million at the time of the 2011 census, is currently estimated at close to 1,342 million. UIDAI has issued more than 1,155 million Aadhaar cards so far. By March 2015 as many as 13 states and union territories had already issued cards in excess of the 2011 population. - Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 20, 2017

13 June, 2017

A chilling message to media

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “a day to reiterate our unwavering support towards a free and vibrant press.” The weeks that followed revealed the wide gulf between this pious wish and his administration’s practice.

A few days before that tweet, the Central Bureau of Investigation had received a complaint alleging fraud in a transaction between NDTV, a leading media organisation, and the ICICI Bank, both private companies. The complainant, Sanjay Dutt, was a shareholder of both the companies and had been pursuing allegations against the media company and its promoters, Prannoy Roy and his wife, Radhika, in various forums for four years with little success.

On June 2 the CBI registered an 88-page first information report on the basis of Dutt’s complaint and two days later it conducted searches at four places belonging to the Roys. It was not the first time that an investigating agency had acted against media owners but the attendant circumstances suggested that this one was intended to send a chilling message to the entire media.

NDTV is one of the earliest private news television companies and played a major role in bringing to national attention the enormity of the anti-Muslim riots that swept Gujarat in 2002 soon after Modi became the state chief minister. Just a few days ago, one of its anchors, Nidhi Razdan, had asked Bharatiya Janata Party spokesman Sambit Patra to apologise or leave her show as he alleged the channel had an agenda.

Two central government agencies, the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax department, had started looking into NDTV’s finances soon after Modi became the Prime Minister. They served notices on the Roys in connection with certain transactions, and they moved the courts with regard to some of them.

Last November the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting ordered the group’s Hindi channel, NDTV India, to go off the air for a day for revealing sensitive information in its coverage of the attack on the Pathankot airbase in violation of the rules regarding reporting of terror incidents. Media organisations had protested against singling out the channel for action sparing others who, too, had shown similar visuals.

Last week, at a largely attended meeting of journalists in New Delhi to demonstrate solidarity with the Roys, eminent jurist Fali S Nariman pointed to infirmities in the CBI conduct. It had acted not on the basis of any crime-related discovery but on a lone private complaint. The criminal conspiracy and cheating alleged in the complaint had taken place during 2008-09 and it did not say why the matter was not brought to the agency’s attention earlier.

Instead of instituting a criminal inquiry and conducting raids, the CBI should have asked Dutt to file a complaint in a criminal court, Nariman said.

Veteran journalists who spoke at the meeting likened the current situation to what prevailed during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime and called upon the media fraternity to stand together to safeguard press freedom. Prannoy Roy asserted he and his wife had done no wrong, and the action against them was a signal to the media that the government could get them even if they had done nothing.

A majority of the media has been uncritical of the government and there is in the electronic media a group of fawning fans ready to fight Modi’s and his party’s battles as if they were their own. But Modi remains distrustful of the media and avoids press conferences.

The CBI’s uncalled-for action on a private complaint with regard to transactions involving private companies has once again turned the focus on the functioning of that agency.

Set up by Jawaharlal Nehru’s government in 1963, the CBI established an early reputation as a competent investigative agency. That reputation now lies in ruins. After reviewing the way it handled a scandal of the United Progressive Alliance government, a Supreme Court judge had dubbed it a caged parrot repeating its master’s voice.

Ranjit Sinha who headed the CBI at that time said the court’s assessment was correct. The agency later appealed to the court to free it from governmental interference but nothing came of it.

The BJP, then in the opposition, had lambasted the UPA government using the judge’s remarks about the CBI. Last month leading lawyer and former Congress minister, Kapil Sibal said the CBI was now the long arm of the Modi government and it was holding out threats to people to secure favourable statements. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 13, 2017. 

11 June, 2017

Former civil servants decry hyper-nationalism and religious intolerance

A group of retired civil servants has questioned the idea that “those in authority should not be questioned”, and expressed concern over “growing hyper-nationalism that reduces any critique to a binary: if you are not with the government, you are anti-national”.
The following is the text of an open letter bearing signatures of more than 50 of them:
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 uFormer s 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 terrorized.
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 J and K 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 organized 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) Dr.N.C.Saxena, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Planning Commission, Government of India (GoI)
2) Ardhendu Sen, IAS (Retd.), former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
3) KeshavDesiraju, IAS (Retd.), former Health Secretary, GoI
4) J.Hari Narayan, IAS (Retd.), former Chairman, Insurance Regulatory Authority, GoI
5) G.Balagopal, IAS (Retd.), former Resident Representative, UNICEF, North Korea
6) AnupMukerji, IAS (Retd.), former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Bihar
7) Sundar Burra, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
8) VibhaPuri Das, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI
9) AmitabhaPande, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI
10) K.K. Jaswal, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
11) Aruna Roy, IAS (Resigned)
12) Niranjan Pant, IA&AS (Retd.), former Deputy Comptroller and Accountant General of India
13) UmraoSalodia, IAS (Retd.), former Chairman, Rajasthan State Roadways Transport Corporation, Govt. of Rajasthan
14) E.A.S. Sarma, IAS, (Retd.), former Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, GoI
15) Arun Kumar, IAS (Retd.), former Chairman, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, GoI
16) Brijesh Kumar, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
17) WajahatHabibullah, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, GoI, and Chief Information Commissioner
18) LalitMathur, IAS (Retd.), former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI
19) Surjit K. Das, IAS (Retd.), former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Uttarakhand
20) S.N.Kakar, IAS (Retd.), former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Surface Transport, GoI
21) Sayeed Rizvi, IAS (Retd.), former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, GoI
22) R.Chandramohan, IAS (Retd.), former Principal Secretary, Urban Development and Transport, Govt. of NCT of Delhi
23) PranabMukhopadhyay, IAS (Retd.), former Director, Institute of Port Management, GoI
24) K.P.Fabian, IFS (Retd.), former Ambassador, GoI
25) Kalyani Chaudhuri, IAS (Retd.), former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
26) Meena Gupta, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, GoI
27) M.G. Devasahayam, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary to Govt. of Haryana
28) SonaliniMirchandani, IFS (Resigned)
29) Deepak Sanan, IAS (Retd.), former Principal Adviser (AR) to the Chief Minister of the Govt. of Himachal Pradesh
30) Harsh Mander, IAS (Retd.), Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
31) Dhirendra Krishna, IA&AS (Retd.), former Financial Controller, Irrigation Department, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
32) SudershanK.Sudhakar, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Govt. of Punjab
33) RuchiraMukerjee, P&T Finance Accounts Service (Retd.), former Adviser, Telecom Commission, GoI
34) K. John Koshy, IAS (Retd.), former State Chief Information Commissioner, West Bengal
35) Sunil Mitra, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI
36) C.Babu Rajeev, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, GoI
37) JawaharSircar, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, and CEO, PrasarBharati
38) VivekAgnihotri, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary General, Rajya Sabha
39) BhaskarGhose, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, GoI
40) Dr.K.R.Punia, IAS (Retd.), former Principal Secretary, Govt. of Haryana
41) Lalit Mehta, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Poverty Alleviation, GoI
42) Ishrat Aziz, IFS (Retd.), former Ambassador to Brazil, GoI
43) Manab Roy, IAS (Retd.), former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
44) S.K.Guha, IAS (Retd.), Chief, Institutional Development and Planning and Programme Guidance, UN Women
45) V.Ramani, IAS (Retd.), former Director General, YASHADA, Govt. of Maharashtra
46) Anna Dani, IAS (Retd.), former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
47) Dr. Raju Sharma, IAS (Retd.), former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
48) HarMander Singh, IAS (Retd.), former Director General, ESI Corporation, GoI
49) Ajai Kumar, Indian Forest Service (Resigned), former Director, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI
50) GeethaThoopal, IRAS (Retd.), former General Manager, Metro Railway, Kolkata
51) N.Balachandran, IPS (Retd.),former Director General of Police and Chairman, Tamil Nadu Police Housing Corporation
52) Deepa Hari, IRS (Resigned)
53) Hirak Ghosh, IAS (Retd.), former Principal Secretary to the Govt. of West Bengal.