The retired officials have called the sudden arrests of five activists as the “most brazen display of coercive authority by the state yet”.
New Delhi: Forty-eight retired civil servants have penned an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, condemning the arrest of prominent human rights activists by the Pune Police on the premise that they instigated the Bhima-Koregaon violence and are alleged to be Maoist supporters.
However, this isn’t the first time that this group of retired IAS officers has spoken against the Modi government.
In April, they wrote another open letter to PM Modi, in which they criticised him for only breaking his silence on the Kathua and Unnao rapes “when public outrage both in India and internationally reached a point when you could no longer ignore it”.
The retired officials have called the sudden arrests of five activists and lawyers as the “most brazen display of coercive authority by the state yet”, in an attempt to “intimidate and silence any signs of dissent and democratic resistance”.
On 28 August, the Pune Police carried out simultaneous nationwide raids, arresting lawyer-activist Sudha Bharadwaj in Faridabad, Telugu poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, activists Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, and civil liberties activist Gautam Navlakha in New Delhi.
In response, protests were organised across the country, and the National Human Rights Commission also issued a notice to the Maharashtra government over the police action. The government, however, stood by these arrests, claiming that it possessed “proof” about the activists’ “links with the Naxal movement”.
The retired officials said they see these arrests as the government’s use of draconian laws, which “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 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,” they have written.
The arrests, however, are just the trigger; the officers say their concerns about “the rise in authoritarian and majoritarian tendencies” of the Modi government have been growing for some time now.
The letter calls the state’s actions hypocritical and unjustified, stating that it is ironic that “a ‘Maoist sympathiser’ is treated as a dangerous terrorist who needs to be incarcerated, (while) a sympathiser of Bajrang Dal or Sanatan Sansthan or Hindu Mahasabha, who flaunts the agenda of violence and hate, is seen as pursuing a worthwhile national cause”.
The letter adds that the activists and lawyers who have been arrested hold an exemplary record, and have “always used lawful and democratic means in their efforts”. This action, therefore, is “a deliberate official falsehood foisted to damage their reputations, and is truly bizarre and Kafkaesque”.
Protect the Constitution
Their earlier letter, pertaining to the rapes in Unnao and Kathua, was also a pleading call to action, in which the officers urged Modi to address the “agenda of division and hate”, which has been “insidiously introduced into the grammar of our politics, our social and cultural life and even our daily discourse”.
“In both cases, Prime Minister, it is your party which is in power,” the letter had said, adding that “given your supremacy within the party and the centralised control you and your party president exercise, you more than anyone else have to be held responsible for this terrifying state of affairs”.
Even now, the officers only want Modi to take action. The officers have written that despite the justification that law and order is a state subject, “we know that you have the political authority to give suitable directions to a BJP chief minister to withdraw the cases”, adding, “It is time that your party and your government show their determination to stand by and protect our Constitution.