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Why National Security Advisor’s advice to IPS probationers is worrying

🔴 Keki N. Daruwalla writes: It failed to recognise that civil society and human rights are fundamentally linked

Written by Keki N. Daruwalla |
Updated: December 2, 2021 10:21:55 am
NSA Ajit Doval at Parliament during its Winter Session, in New Delhi (PTI)

It was a salutary event when the National Security Adviser addressed the IPS probationers at the passing-out parade at the National Police Academy, Hyderabad on November 11. Ajit Doval made the following striking points: One, “People cannot feel safe and secure if law enforcers are weak, corrupt and partisan”. Two, the implementation of laws is more important than their legislation. Three, “The quintessence of democracy does not lie in the ballot box. It lies in the laws made by the people who are elected through those ballot boxes,” (which effectively means the party in power, the BJP). Four, wars are no longer “an effective instrument for achieving political or military objectives”. Then comes the knock-out punch: “But it is the civil society that can be subverted, suborned, that can be divided to hurt the interest of a nation. And you (IPS probationers) are there to see that they are fully protected.” The last bit in this pot-holed oration left some of us old-timers scratching their dandruffed scalps. The focus was not on those suborned TV channels spouting fake news, putting a slant on almost every national event. It was on those people in India who were hell-bent upon subverting the nation, Are there such people? Of course there are, some indoctrinated right-winger will say, pointing to, we all know whom.

The basic point the NSA made, namely that police must implement laws honestly and impartially, is unexceptionable. He did not nudge the door open for a larger debate. The state and its laws, its entire constitutional structure, was subverted from the top during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. The judiciary, like a lamb, complied. Civil rights, now termed human rights, and civil society are interrelated. Civil society consists of individuals who have an opinion on matters affecting them, and they critique the state and government. Civil rights and civil society are the ballast, the foundation on which liberal philosophy stands. Civil disobedience is an example of concretising the dissenting assertion against the aggression of the state. It would be worth our while to remember Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian philosopher, who opined that it was “allowable to, if not incumbent on every man…to enter into measures of resistance…when the probable mischiefs of resistance, appear less to him than the probable mischiefs of obedience.”

Is the police guilty, as seen in Hathras, of “mischiefs of obedience”?

With states becoming more aggressive and omnivorous, the need is to protect civil society from depredations of the state. The state, through its laws, has made many people stateless, one could call them non-persons. A majoritarian state can pass a slew of laws bearing on individual rights and liberty. Didn’t Mrs Gandhi talk incessantly of a committed bureaucracy? The present dispensation wants a committed police. Uma Bharti, ex Union minister, and formerly Chief Minister Madhya Pradesh, stated recently that the bureaucracy was just fit to carry the slippers of politicos. However abhorrent the statement, it reflects a strain of thinking in the establishment. So we have a situation where the right-wing concentrates on the police, which faithfully carries out orders. We must take heed of the number of police “encounters” in UP.

Another statement by the NSA needs pondering over. The implementation of laws “is more important than their legislation”. What if laws themselves are bad? Three farm laws are being repealed. In fact, the NSA’s admonitions are singularly ill-timed. And what if the implementation is too zealous? Have we forgotten the Emergency and the forced vasectomy of rickshaw pullers?

The offensive portions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) have been used against people like Kobad Ghandy and late Father Stan Swamy, who died in jail. This draconian law has no clause for anticipatory bail and the minimum punishment prescribed is five years. This is the aggressive state in action. There are also old laws like Section 124 A of the IPC that penalises sedition, something the police has made great use of. That was, of course, the colonial state in action. India ranks 142 out of 180 in the Global Law index due to the “draconian and colonial laws that still exist,” according to the former Justice of the Supreme court, Rohinton Nariman. India is close to the bottom of the list.

Before government functionaries enter debates on state power and individual liberty, one would recommend the study of the salutary judgment the Delhi High Court delivered on June 15 this year. On the bail plea of the Pinjra Tod activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and student leader Asif Iqbal Tanha, who had been in jail for 13 months, the court granted them bail and made certain stringent observations. In sum, it said that in a bid to stifle dissent, the state blurs the line between the constitutional right to protest and terrorism. Talking of the UAPA, the bench of eminent Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup Jairam stated “the more stringent a penal provision, the more strictly it must be construed”. But chargesheets are filed blithely. The justices also called attention to little evidence but “alarming hyperbole verbiage” against the wronged activists.

Civil society expects steadiness, not bonanzas from the state, which doles out five-year tenures for chiefs of CBI and Enforcement Directorate. Four days before superannuation, an officer is made DGP Delhi. The CBI office was subjected to a midnight raid, at the chosen hour when the CBI itself raids others. The Secretary General of the Rajya Sabha was moved out after two months to accommodate P C Mody, an IRS officer. This is almost anarchy.

And lastly, Doval could have emphasised wider reading by IPS probationers, before one day they, like their seniors, put a floundering foot into issues beyond their ken.

This column first appeared in the print edition on December 2, 2021 under the title ‘Who should be policed’. Daruwalla is a poet, writer and former chairman, Joint Intelligence Committee

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