It was shocking and disturbing to read about the briefing of the Supreme Court judges by National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval (‘National security a non-partisan issue, seek your cooperation: NSA to CJI, Supreme Court judges’, The Indian Express, April 16). The NSA is clearly wrong in saying that national security should be a non-partisan issue and should not be viewed through a political prism. The truth is that there is no more political and partisan an issue than the problem of national security. The security of the nation, both internal and external, depends on the policies, foreign and domestic, of the political party (or parties) in power. Different political parties and civil society groups may sharply differ on various aspects of national security. The relationship between national security and human rights is, essentially, a political and socio-economic problem. Fanatical ultra-nationalists and human rights activists differ strongly on where to draw the line between the demands of security and claims of human rights. How can such issues be non-political and non-partisan?
On several occasions, the SC has had to deal with the question of the constitutionality of the so-called anti-terror laws as well as the convictions made under them. Some of the judgments seem to show that a few judges are obsessed with national security. They know full well that these laws are capable of gross abuse but they are not ready to accept this. The classic example of this obsession is the controversial hanging of Afzal Guru.
Why do SC judges require a unilateral and partisan briefing from the NSA on national security? And if that is alright, then why not a similar briefing by social activists and human rights defenders who try to uphold the constitutional rights of the otherwise faceless and voiceless masses, who are discriminated against in the name of national security? Similarly, why not a briefing by the displaced Adivasis, the ostracised Dalits, the terrorised minorities, the exploited workers, the wandering slum dwellers, the marginalised farmers, the landless labourers, the tortured women and the toiling children? The judges especially need to hear and know more about the pains and miseries of these “wretched of the earth”.
National security means the security of the people of this country, and not merely the security of the ruling elites. The government cannot always be trusted with genuine security. Many a times, governments, driven by partisan and political reasons, contribute to border disputes or internal insecurity. Take for example India’s decision to ally with the US and Israel in the so-called fight against Islamic terrorism. India’s stand is likely to invite such terrorism into the country. Similarly, conflicts, both in Jammu and Kashmir as well as in the Northeast, are the result of anti-democratic policies of successive governments resulting in the alienation of the local people. The Naxal problem is in essence due to the negation of democratic rights of millions of Adivasis. Are these issues non-partisan and non-political?
Undermining democratic rights and civil liberties has become commonplace, especially after the 9/11 terror attack in the US, and is often justified as inevitable on the grounds of national security. Are human rights really antithetical to national security? Can you really secure your country by ignoring and violating people’s basic rights? The truth is, free and contented people enjoying democratic rights is the surest guarantee of the nation’s security. On the other hand, oppression of civil liberties, political marginalisation of minorities, widening economic inequalities and social disharmony are serious threats, not just to national but also global security. This is what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and our Constitution also state. The judges should have been briefed by civil rights activists as well because to be enlightened by just one party on national security is not fair.