ational Security Adviser Ajit Doval has urged a fresh batch of Indian Police Service (IPS) officers, at a passing out parade November 12, to wage war against and ‘subvert’ the civil society in the name of defending the rule of law. This call could be taken as a call for subverting democracy itself. This is an ominous and dangerous signal coming on the heels of almost similar exhortations by the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat to vigilante groups in Jammu and Kashmir to take law in their hands and finish off alleged terrorists.
When a society and a nation state emerge from the dark days of savagery and desire to create a modern democratic system, the first remarkable difference that can be observed is when law and order are implemented. These two words differentiate a free and modern society from a dark and savage society. Order is imposed by Police and Law is executed by the Judiciary. The problem in India today is that those in power mistakenly consider ‘civil society’ as being limited to social activists and NGOs and other types of organised groups. If correctly viewed, civil or civilized society comprises not only the activists and organised groups but also educationists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, business persons and, on a wider perspective, any educated and aware citizen of the nation.
Civil society everywhere in the world acts as a watchdog of democracy, opening the eyes of the people to the gross abuse of the rule of law and acts of omission and commission by a government hurting the interests of the people and the nation. A nation is not merely a piece of land. It is the people living on it who create a society that makes that piece of land unique. To try to force this society into submission and neutralise it is an assault on the very nation theory that the police ought to be taught to protect. The rights of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the principles of democracy are significant elements that help cement a civilized society.
Suppressing civilized society under the pretext of enforcing rule of law is being projected as if it is in the greater good of the nation. There seems to be no compunction to change the meaning of civil society, damning it indirectly and telling young police officers that the true danger against the nation lies within that civil society. In fact, heinous attacks on civil society by law enforcers have been glorified as a “fourth frontier war.”
Fourth-generation warfare (FGW) means a conflict where the state fights non-state actors such as terror groups and insurgents. In defence parlance, the FGW is the fourth stage of evolution in warfare. The first-generation warfare refers to the formal battlefield war, second-generation to artillery fire, and third-generation to speed, surprise and infiltrating an enemy’s military.
The attack on civil society, regarded as the conscience-keeper of a democracy, reeks of intolerance and arrogance of a government. The language used by Doval could surprise citizens of any free country. “It is the civil society,” he said, “that can be subverted, divided, manipulated to hurt the interest of a nation.” What he means is a prescription for the enforcers to make the independent voice fall in line and browbeat it into surrender. It is based on the assumption that civil society is not acting in the interest of the state. The role of civil society, however, is to uphold the interests of the people when the powers that be seek to undermine them.
Then Doval came up with his personal definition of democracy. What he said is in defence of the elected representatives at the expense of the electorate. The quintessence of democracy, he said, did not lie in the ballot box, but “in the laws made by the people who are elected through those ballot boxes” and in the will of the police to enforce them. This is exactly what India is being told currently that an elected government has the mandate to do whatever it thinks best for the nation. But, what has been forgotten is that the people and their civil society have the right to criticise what an elected government does. The right is secured in the provisions of the Constitution of this democratic nation. In order to change the democratic system, the government seems to be systematically maligning the civil society.
Doval further said that laws are not as good as they are made. They are as good as they are implemented and executed. But, what he did not say is that most of the laws, such as the Sedition rules, that the police are now being called upon to enforce every so often are colonial era laws and were not made through a democratic process. Moreover, many of the laws passed by elected lawmakers are poorly or vaguely drafted, giving room for abuse. Most importantly, all laws and all executive decisions are subject to judicial review. This is a point conveniently forgotten by most people in power. In fact, people’s confidence in the system of crime and punishment as implemented by the police and the investigating agencies has been alarmingly eroded because of the way the laws are twisted to suit the interests of the government and those who are powerful.
The top cops of India, in other words the IPS, need to be exhorted to learn the latest methods of investigation and detection. They desperately need to be sensitised about being pro victim and not the opposite. Invariably, when discussions are held on Police Reforms, they veer towards obtaining new weapons, modern vehicles and better pay and perks of police personnel. While those undoubtedly are very essential and core issues that need to be addressed immediately, in the same breath it must be added that these top cops should be taught that regaining public confidence is essential for successful policing. Without cooperation of the vast majority of citizens, police will remain isolated. Also vital is physical fitness and appearance of police women and men in India.
The police force in India is still carrying its colonial legacy and character. People feel that for namesake only it is called Indian.