The Ominous Design: Journey towards a Security State
MODI government has promulgated two ordinances allowing the central government to extend tenures of the directors of CBI and ED from two to five years. That both these central agencies have been functioning as the political tool of the ruling party to advance the government’s agenda is a cliché in India today. Leaders of opposition parties and dissenting voices, intellectuals who dare to call the government to account are being regularly targeted. It is no rocket science to understand that the enhancement of the directors’ tenures of these agencies will further subvert their autonomy and make these key officers more pliable.
The Supreme Court had once described the CBI as a ‘caged parrot’. But, the recent developments particularly after the Modi government has assumed power for the second time, these agencies have been unleashed as vultures to dismantle the framework of personal liberties and democratic rights enshrined in the constitution. The Supreme Court had earlier given a clear cut direction to restrict the misuse of these agencies; they had laid down that any extension of tenures has to be for a very short period and “only in rare and exceptional circumstances” and that too, for the express purpose of facilitating an ongoing investigation. However, the ordinances aim to completely scuttle those judicial restrictions.
Predictably, the opposition and all well-meaning opinion who are deeply concerned about the systematic subversion of democratic rights and personal freedom have raised their voice against this obnoxious move.
PART OF A DESIGN: THEORETICAL UNDERPINNINGS
If seen in the context of unfolding circumstances, the move is clearly the part of a pattern prompted by an overall paradigm shift. It is important to fully comprehend the theoretical underpinnings of this new paradigm.
National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, came out all guns blazing on a day when the police in J&K arrested a human rights activist for questioning the CRPF for killing a young man. Doval was speaking to trainee police officers describing the civil society as “fourth frontier of war”. He presumed that for an enemy conventional warfare may be cost ineffective and “but, it is the civil society that can be subverted, subsumed, divided, manipulated to hurt the interests of a nation”. With his contempt towards the civil society, he urged his police audience to stand for the protection of the nation for whatever they meant. Ironically, this assertion was to underline the importance of the rule of law.
As a matter of fact, the laws that the police are urged upon to enforce are colonial era laws which came into being without any democratic deliberations. The Sedition Act is a prime example. Many of these laws enacted by the legislature are either by design or default vaguely worded, inadequately debated and ready to be abused. Finally, any abuse through executive decisions can be corrected, if at all, through judicial review. Therefore, the entire process is beyond the realm of elected representatives. It is obvious that this Doval ‘doctrine’ is a police man’s agenda for a police state with the explicit assertion that those who challenge the government need to be treated as internal enemies in the so called ‘fourth frontier of war’. Not to be left behind, General Vipin Rawat spoke publicly, how it was a “good thing” that the public at large in J&K was ready to ‘lynch the terrorists’. It is another matter that there was no substantial evidence offered other than some unidentified social media posts to make this assertion. The general was of course blissfully oblivious of the accumulated pile of evidence of encounter killings in several parts of the country and justifying them as acts of self-defence. This was nothing short of promoting vigilantism as a substitute for the rule of law with its core idea of right of trial.
Messrs Doval and Rawat are clearly drawing from the endorsement of Prime Minister Modi at the National Human Rights Commission event where he observed: “some people see human rights violations in some incidents but not in others. Human rights are violated when viewed via political spectacles. Selective behaviour is harmful to democracy… Some try to dent the country’s image in the name of human rights… Looking at human rights with an eye on political gains and loss harms these rights as well as democracy.” It is obvious that deriding human rights and constitutional safeguards without an iota of specific evidence has come to define this new journey towards a National Security State.
THE USE AND ABUSE OF DRACONIAN LAWS
The draconian laws like the Sedition Act, the amendments to UAPA, the National Security Act are being put into the most rampant use. The bizarre extent to which this abuse can go is seen in the application of booking Supreme Court lawyers who were put under UAPA for probing the anti-minority violence in Tripura recently. Journalists had to face similar fate.
One of the biggest revelations on the manner of use of the Sedition Act and UAPA comes from the outcome of this indiscriminate splurge. In 2019, in 9 per cent of the sedition cases, which were pending from previous years and freshly filed during the year, the police closed the cases because of lack of evidence. 11 per cent of the UAPA cases were closed for the same reason. Charge sheets were filed in only 17 per cent of the sedition cases and 9 per cent of the UAPA cases. The conviction rate in sedition cases, in 1019 was 3.3 per cent and in case of UAPA 29.2 per cent. India in any case has a very low average conviction rate for crimes committed under IPC; but, in the case of Sedition Act and UAPA, it is even more abysmal on that yardstick.
The National Crime Records Bureau’s report on crime in India conform that in 2019 alone a 165 per cent jump was registered as compared to that in 2016 in the case of Sedition Act. In 2019, 1226 UAPA cases were filed registering a 33 per cent increase from 2016.
This pathetic situation is clearly the result of mindless application of these draconian laws where the charges have no consonants with the aims and objectives of the enactment. The vague wordings of the laws are almost tailor made for abuse. It is important to note that despite the failure in successful prosecution and subsequent conviction, the incarceration of those charged goes without bail and often without trial suffer worse punishment than those under conviction itself. The recent custodial death of Father Stan Swamy is a grim pointer. There are innumerable examples of this process. The incarceration of intellectuals and activists in the Bhima Koregaon case is the most obnoxious example.
WEAPONISING THE SECURITY STATE
The tools which are being used to snuff out dissent are also a mockery of the functioning of a democratic republic. The controversy over the weapon grade spyware, Pegasus is a prime example of this new direction. The potential of violating the rights to privacy is inimical with a democratic setup. The government’s pathetic response to the Supreme Court’s pointed query whether any agencies of the government had indeed procured these, the refusal on the specious argument that it would undermine national security is a commentary on the government’s way of thinking. It was clear that the government understood that mere possession of the spyware would be violative of some of the guarantees provided by the constitution.
Similar was the home minister’s claim with his customary impunity that people who were being charged for instigating violence in Delhi communal violence were done so on the basis of information accessed with the deployment of face recognition technology. It is another matter that use of such technology does not have any statutory backing. Clearly, inadmissible methods were being used to criminalise dissent and criticism of the government.
Similarly, the forensic examination of the laptop of one of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case also brought out a blood chilling example when a malware was planted to manipulate the evidence.
The digitisation of personal identity and linking them for benefits of government schemes is potent with full-fledged surveillance. There is no question that all these are putting in place all the trappings of a full-fledged security and surveillance state.
IMPERATIVES OF THIS PARADIGM
The overall conditions of the Indian economy with the growing social and economic inequality is pushing majority of the Indians to the margins while the rich and the wealthy, particularly those corporates who are proximate to the government are appearing to be increasingly untenable. That these are not merely the consequences of the pandemic, but, in fact only intensifying the distress of the people is obvious. The inequality together with the unsustainable levels of unemployment is pushing the country towards a dead end. Not just a crisis of livelihood, but it has turned into an acute challenge for survival. The situation is marked by the widespread incidence of hunger which is not only being highlighted in international studies, but also coming under flak of the Supreme Court itself. Even then the government is refusing to extend the deadline for continuing the food grain scheme. Other programmes of providing relief like the provisioning of funds for MGNREGA are also under stress for want of funds.
The possibility of growing criticism, opposition and resistance is a distinct possibility. It is in order to snuff out such a course that this journey towards a security state is becoming almost inevitable.
The obnoxious path on which the government has embarked upon is inimical to our democratic secular republic. But, the defence of human rights and individual liberties which so far might appear as directed against intellectuals, activists, critics and other dissenters cannot be successfully battled without building the broadest possible unity. The assault on the democratic structure is essentially aimed to undermine resistance to secure livelihood and survival. The linkage between the two is the only course available for overwhelming majority of our people to take forward this battle.