Dear Prime Minister,
We are witnessing a frenzy of hate filled destruction in the country where at the sacrificial altar are not just Muslims and members of the other minority communities but the Constitution itself. As former civil servants, it is not normally our wont to express ourselves in such extreme terms, but the relentless pace at which the constitutional edifice created by our founding fathers is being destroyed compels us to speak out and express our anger and anguish.
The escalation of hate violence against the minority communities, particularly Muslims, in the last few years and months across several States – Assam, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, all states in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power, barring Delhi (where the union government controls the police) – has acquired a frightening new dimension. It is no longer just the politics of an assertive Hindutva identity, nor the attempt to keep the communal cauldron on the boil – all that has been going for decades and in the last few years had become a part of the new normal. What is alarming now is the subordination of the fundamental principles of our Constitution and of the rule of law to the forces of majoritarianism, in which the state appears to be fully complicit.
The hate and malevolence directed against Muslims seems to have embedded itself deep in the recesses of the structures, institutions and processes of governance in the States in which the BJP is in power. The administration of law, instead of being an instrument for maintaining peace and harmony, has become the means by which the minorities can be kept in a state of perpetual fear. Their constitutional right to practice their own faith, follow their own customs, dress code and personal laws and exercise their own food choices, is threatened not merely by letting vigilante mobs inflict violence on them with impunity but, by twisting the law itself, to circumscribe their freedom of choice and make it convenient for a prejudiced, communal executive to make colourable use of state power. State power is thus used not only to facilitate vigilante violence targeted against a community but to make ostensibly legal means available to the administration (e.g., anti-conversion laws, laws proscribing consumption of beef, encroachment removal, prescription of uniform codes in educational institutions) to strike fear in the community, deprive them of their livelihoods and make it evident to them that they have to accept their status as inferior citizens who have to subordinate themselves to majoritarian political power and majoritarian social and cultural norms. The likelihood of our becoming a country that systematically makes sections of its own citizens – minorities, Dalits, the poor and the marginalized – targets of hate and knowingly deprives them of their fundamental rights is now, more than ever, frighteningly real.
While we are not aware if the current spurt in communal frenzy is coordinated and directed by the political leadership, it is evident that the administration at the state and local levels provides a facilitating environment for mischievous lumpen groups to operate without fear. Such facilitation and support is not limited to that offered by the local police and other administrative officials; it appears to have the tacit approval of the highest political levels in the state and central governments, which provide the enabling policy and institutional environment for local level tyranny. While the actual commission of violence may be outsourced to fringe groups, there is little doubt as to how the ground for their operations is made fertile, how each of them follows a master script and shares a common ‘tool kit’ and how the propaganda machinery of a party as well as the state is made available to them to defend their actions.
What distinguishes the incidents that are taking place now from earlier communal conflagrations is not merely that a master design is being unveiled to prepare the grounds for a Hindu Rashtra, but that the constitutional and legal framework designed to prevent such a development from taking place is itself being twisted and perverted to make it an instrument of majoritarian tyranny. No wonder then that the bulldozer has now become the new metaphor for the exercise of political and administrative power, literally and figuratively. The edifice built around the ideas of ‘due process’ and ‘rule of law’ stands demolished. As the Jahangirpuri incident shows, even the orders of the highest court of the land appear to be treated with scant respect by the executive.
Prime Minister, we, the members of the Constitutional Conduct Group – all of us are former civil servants who have spent decades in the service of the Constitution – believe that the threat we are facing is unprecedented and at stake is not just constitutional morality and conduct; it is that the unique syncretic social fabric, which is our greatest civilizational inheritance and which our Constitution is so meticulously designed to conserve, is likely to be torn apart. Your silence, in the face of this enormous societal threat, is deafening.
We appeal to your conscience, taking heart from your promise of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas. It is our fond hope that in this year of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, rising above partisan considerations, you will call for an end to the politics of hate that governments under your party’s control are so assiduously practising. The idea of India that our founding fathers had envisioned and fought for needs a climate of fraternity and communal harmony to thrive. Hate will engender hate, rendering the environment too noxious for the idea to survive.
This article first appeared on constitutionalconduct.com