NC Asthana

The TV channel Sudarshan News (shared via the Twitter handle of its editor, @SureshChavhanke) had posted a 45-second-long promo of their programme titled Bindas Bol scheduled for daily relay from August 28 at 8 pm on Twitter. It is On Friday, the Delhi high court stayed the transmission of the episode. The promo claimed that Muslim candidates, in a conspiracy against the nation, had ‘infiltrated’ (ghuspaith) into the civil services in ‘large numbers with very high marks’, labelling it ‘UPSC jihad’ or ‘bureaucracy jihad’.

Illegitimate to invoke religion of civil servants

A civil servant’s religion is her personal matter. According to the Government of India’s decisions under Rule 3 of the All India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1968, civil servants should so conduct themselves in public as to leave no room for an impression that they are likely, in their official dealings, to favour persons belonging to any particular religion. In addition, they must uphold the supremacy of the constitution and democratic values. The Supreme Court had held in the famous Kesavananda Bharati case and reiterated in S.R. Bommai vs Union of India, that secularism is inherent to the basic structure of the constitution.

It is therefore wrong to describe civil servants in terms of their personal religions. Do we, for example, ever speak of the relative contributions of Tamil Brahmin scientists to space research or that of Agrawal/Gupta doctors to medical research? However, since the TV channel has broached the subject, we are forced to counter it on facts.

Nothing abnormal in recruitment of Muslims

Recruitment to the civil services is through a fair, open exam with selection based only on merit. Even if 100% of the selected candidates turn out to be Muslims, there cannot be any valid reason to complain.

It must also be kept in mind that the percentage of successful candidates belonging to any group depends heavily on the number of students from that group who decide to write the civil services examination in the first place. Moreover, it also depends on the candidates’ location and their family circumstances, which have a direct bearing on whether they are able to receive some good coaching and course material or not.

I have not had time to get details of the religions of the candidates from the UPSC through RTI or any other means. However, the religion of the candidates can be made out approximately from their names in the official results, even as it does not guarantee accuracy. A little inaccuracy does not affect our conclusions significantly.

In the 2019 examination, 35 out of 829 selected candidates were Muslims. That comes to 4.22%, whereas their percentage in the population of India, according to the 2011 Census, is described as 14.2%. Since they are way below their percentage in population, this busts the charge of disproportionate selection. If anything, there is under-representation.

In the 2018 examination, out of 759 successful candidates ,just 2.64%, or 20, were Muslims. In the 2017 examination, out of 810 successful candidates, 41, that is 5.06%, were Muslims. There are four Muslim candidates amongst the first 100 candidates. For all these three years, there are zero, 2 and 4 Muslims in the 1-100 rank; the remaining Muslim candidates are almost uniformly distributed in the rank brackets of 100-200, 200-300, 300-400, 400-500, 500-600, 600-700 and 700-end. This busts the ‘maximum marks to Muslim candidates’ allegation.

Thus, there is nothing abnormal about the selection of Muslim candidates – there is no sudden increase in their percentage, as alleged. On the contrary, they have yet to come close to a representation commensurate with their percentage in population, something commented upon by the Sachar Committee report also. Moreover, the promo did not produce an iota of credible evidence to support their allegation that there is a conspiracy to ‘infiltrate’ the government services.

Promo warrants legal action

Mere condemnation on social media by some service associations and organisations that have no locus standi in the matter is of no consequence. The Sudarshan News promo warrants legal action for hate speech.

In terms of the judgment of a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in the case of Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan vs Union of India & Ors (2014), almost every ingredient of hate speech described by the court fits perfectly into the channel’s malicious tirade. The first two ingredients of hate speech are ‘effort to marginalise’ and ‘delegitimise’. Alleging that the few successful Muslim candidates to the civil services did not make it on genuine merit is clearly an attempt to delegitimise them and subsequently marginalise them.

The third ingredient is to ‘reduce social standing and acceptance’. By insinuating that undeserving candidates have ‘infiltrated’, it has reduced the social standing and acceptance of Muslim civil servants. Moreover, what could finally constitute a danger from this? Though not answered explicitly by the channel, the implication is that Muslims are some sort of danger to national security. Obviously, had they been harmless in their perception, there would have been no cause for alarm.

private complaint has been filed in the court of the chief judicial magistrate, Ahmednagar, against Suresh Chavhanke of Sudarshan News. Hundreds of journalists, film directors, lawyers and civil society members have written to seven chief ministers demanding the registration of a case against him for this ‘grotesque assault on India’.

An allegation which casts aspersions on the professional competence, loyalty to the nation and devotion to duty of police officers belonging to a certain group attracts penal action under Section 3 of the Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act, 1922. This punishes any act that is likely to cause disaffection towards the government amongst the members of a police force or that is likely to induce any member of a police force to withhold his services or to commit a breach of discipline. Though the Law Commission recommended the Act’s repeal because of its loose wording, it would seem to cover the TV programme since disaffection, according to Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.

By trying to convince non-Muslim IPS officers that incompetent Muslims officers have ‘infiltrated’ into the IPS through deceit and a conspiracy against the nation, the channel is actually causing disaffection towards the government, which appoints such officers. Moreover, they are indirectly trying to induce a belief amongst them that there is little to be gained by working with devotion when the service has been infiltrated by undeserving Muslim officers under a conspiracy. It would predispose them towards working in an indifferent manner and not delivering at their full potential, amounting to withholding their services or even committing acts of indiscipline.

To accuse the UPSC of being unfair and a part of a conspiracy against national interest is clearly defamatory. If they had genuine doubts on the fairness and objectivity of the selection process of the UPSC, the correct course for them would have been to address the UPSC formally with their facts and arguments and seek a response from them. If the UPSC had refused to respond or if they did not find the response satisfactory, they could have gone to court with it. Making unsubstantiated allegations in a public forum where the UPSC is not even represented is a violation of basic media norms.

Sudarshan TV is free to question the pattern of examination, the syllabi, the types of questions asked – the whole enchilada. They could very well claim that the questions asked do not test a candidate’s full potential; that the answers are often debatable; that several answers could be possible; and so on. However, they are accusing the UPSC  of deliberate mischief to the detriment of national interests. The UPSC is surely within its rights to proceed against the channel in a court of law.

Similarly, to accuse a 100-year old Central university like Jamia of producing jihadis (Jamia ke jihadi) is plainly defamatory. They have absolutely no evidence for such damning statement. The university has written to the Ministry of Education, demanding action for “tarnishing” the image of the varsity by using communal slurs.

Possible repercussions of such propaganda on public order

The Supreme Court’s Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan vs Union of India & Ors (2014) judgment says that hate speech lays the groundwork for later broad attacks on the vulnerable that can range from discrimination to ostracism, segregation, deportation, violence and, in the most extreme cases, to genocide.

We are aware that in a place like Delhi, for example, thousands of aspirants stay in PG accommodations in Old Rajendra Nagar and Mukherjee Nagar etc. slogging day in and day out for years away from their homes. Now, if non-Muslim aspirants were to be made to genuinely believe by Sudarshan News that Muslim candidates are being ‘pushed’ into the civil services and that non-Muslim aspirants are likely to fail, their tremendous exertions and merit notwithstanding, it is very likely to create feelings of frustrations and hatred towards Muslims. This may result in assaults or other crimes on them. Such incidents can easily snowball into communal riots.

In this respect, the Sudarshan News promo is acutely reminiscent of the Rwanda radio (Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines-RTLM), which played a significant role in inciting the April-July 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

The SC judgment also speaks of hate speech impacting “a protected group’s ability to respond to the substantive ideas under debate, thereby placing a serious barrier to their full participation in our democracy.” In the current matter, it is difficult to envisage a situation where the UPSC would come out with a statement and analysis in its defence to prove its impartiality and fairness, as assessments in the interview/personality test always carry an element of subjectivity to them.

Any analysis by the Muslim candidates themselves in respect of the subjects chosen by them and marks obtained in interview etc. would be regarded as defensive ab initio. That leaves only articles like this to oppose the TV channel’s malicious design. 

Possible ulterior motive

The possible ultimate ulterior motive of such vicious propaganda is not difficult to fathom. It appears to be a part of a nearly-hundred-year-old design of some people to relegate the Muslims to not just second-grade citizens but to something much worse, where they stand completely discredited in the eyes of all non-Muslims, if not legally. They would thus automatically become suspects, thereby effectively eliminating them from participation in the democratic life of the country and contributing meaningfully towards its socio-cultural-political and economic development.

Today, an allegation has been made in respect of the civil services. Theoretically, nothing prevents such people from raising similar allegations, for example, in respect of selections for medical and engineering education. Today they are speaking of ‘bureaucracy jihad’ or UPSC jihad; tomorrow, they could speak of ‘medical jihad’ and ‘engineering jihad’ also and add them to their hate-filled list which already comprises such fictions as ‘love jihad’, ‘land jihad’, ‘Corona jihad’, etc. If the patient of a Muslim doctor dies under disputable circumstances; if the building designed by a Muslim civil engineer collapses, those will all be described as parts of an unholy attempt to ‘destabilise’ the country!

The hate-mongers seem to have realised that as long as Muslims are represented in important positions and sectors in howsoever-small numbers, at least some of them could constitute a voice that may be heard. Their desire is to crumble the Muslim society from within – that is, reduce it to a stage where they do not have any voice at all. It is against such a danger to the very idea of India as envisaged in our constitution that legal action is warranted. The Indian police would be failing the country if they fail to act on this.

Dr N.C. Asthana, a retired IPS officer, has been DGP Kerala and a long-time ADG CRPF and BSF. Views are personal. He tweets @NcAsthana.

This story first appeared in ‘The Wire’ on August 29, 2020 here