In 1968, Ajit Doval joined the Indian Police Service. The same year, I joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Training was important, and everyone went through the same foundation course at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration. “Trainee civil servants” have their differences but, without exception, everyone who joins the civil services is bound by an oath to the Indian Constitution. It is worth recalling the oath: “I, …., do swear/solemnly affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to India and to the Constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India, and that I will carry out the duties of my office loyally, honestly, and with impartiality. (So help me God !)”
There are many things I remain critical of in my training, but one thing that I cherish and carry with me, even after seven brief years in the IAS, is the clear mandate of the public servant to safeguard the values of the Constitution, including the importance of the Directive Principles of State Policy to the most vulnerable. Our training at the academy, as well as in the service, emphasised that the principles of integrity, honesty, and impartiality can only be properly understood in the context of the Constitution. It made it clear that the elected executive could not transgress those mandates, and every civil servant was there to make sure they were never violated.
However, when National Security Adviser Doval went back to the Police Academy in Hyderabad on November 11 as a chief guest at the passing-out parade, he arbitrarily laid out a new “political” theory of war and national security, with dangerous implications and potential consequences for India.
He told the new police officers: “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 their political or military objectives. They are too expensive and unaffordable and, at the same time, there is an uncertainty about their outcomes. 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. And you are there to see that they stand fully protected.”
Doval neither bothered to define the civil society he wants his officers to be at war with, nor explained what gave him the authority to declare a “fourth-generation war” on our own people. He should explain himself more, but it is a theory that legitimises efforts of the political executive and the private sector as nation-building; and paints opposition or adversarial advocacy by organised citizens’ groups (civil society) as undermining development and nationalism. He clearly wants to short-circuit the democratic, social and development safeguards in the Constitution.
When I left the IAS in 1975, I went on to be a social activist, and to learn how constitutional values of justice and equality could permeate more aspects of Indian, social and political life. Colleagues, campaigns and movements I have admired have contributed with integrity in laying the foundation of an independent country, seeking neither office nor profit. Drawing from the independence movement, citizens’ groups and activists have continued to work on issues of development and democracy based on constitutional principles of liberty, equality, justice, fraternity and dignity, and kept watch on those impinging on them. Perhaps, that is the problem for this government.
In targeting us as potential threats to the Indian nation, Doval has urged the entire new batch of the Indian Police Service to view “civil society” as the potential enemy, with whom a new fourth generation “warfare” has to be fought. Today, he is possibly the only one from our batch who holds public office, as India’s National Security Adviser, with the status of a cabinet minister. Whatever might be his personal views about fourth-generation warfare and the threat that civil society poses, he is, as a public servant, bound by the Constitution, even more than the rest of us. I cannot find one sentence in the Constitution that would give Doval the mandate to turn the gun on “civil society”. In fact, as a senior adviser, he will do great harm to the nation’s security if he is going to fight an internal war against India’s civil society, rather than the real adversaries of the constitutional idea of India.
As a political appointee, Doval seems to have decided that anyone critical of the political government is a threat to the nation. It is the opposition within, who is being defined as the enemy. This argues that the only legitimacy in democracy is vested in the elected government and the laws it passes. He says in the same speech: “Quintessence of democracy does not lie in the ballot box. It lies in the laws which are made by the people who are elected through these ballot boxes.” And of course, like the “nation” and “nationalism”, the political ideology of the elected executive thus becomes the defining entity for the “rule of law”.
There is a pattern. General Bipin Rawat, appointed as the first chief of the armed forces, went on Times Now television to declare, “J&K locals are saying they will lynch the terrorists, which is a very positive sign…If there is a terrorist operating in your area, why should you not lynch him?” Gen Rawat is encouraging lynch mobs to define who a terrorist is, and then take “punishment” into their own hands. Is this the “rule of law”? The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), led by its politically appointed chair, recently organised a debate along with the central police forces that asked: “Are human rights a stumbling block in fighting evils like terrorism & Naxalism?” The statutory conscience-keeper frames a debate, asking whether “human rights” — the legal mandate and reason for the existence of the NHRC — is a “stumbling block”.
All of this is a dangerous assault against our own people. It heralds a future of unmitigated injustice undermining our Constitution, democracy and citizenship. For all these reasons, it undermines the idea of India. This, or any other elected government, has inviolable democratic obligations. It is bound by the Constitution which it can neither sidestep nor claim to be oracle of.
This column first appeared in the print edition on November 18, 2021 under the title ‘We are not the enemy’. The writer is a social activist and former civil servant