of civil liberties
-- By Kuldip Nayar
A Mexican revolutionary once differentiated dictatorship from democracy
thus: In the first, the top man changes the people; in the second, the
people change the top man. This is equally true of political parties.
They too change people. But their way to limit individual's rights is
often so subtle that they do not realise it till the brainwashing is complete.
That people who defied Indira Gandhi's authoritarian rule, should be whittling
down the fundamental values of our democratic society comes as a shock.
I am not referring to the darkening shadows of saffronization, nor the
decreasing resistance to the survival of the fittest economy. I am talking
about the systematic way in which the Government is taking the country
The report, which a committee of Central Ministers has submitted, to tone
up governance and law and order is a retrograde document. There is an
effort to centralize authority, a sign of dictatorship. The report, if
implemented, will bring back the most reprehensible aspects of the Emergency.
The Janata Government justifiably changed the definition of internal security
into internal disturbance in 1977 after ousting Indira Gandhi. The Shah
Commission found no threat to the well being of the nation from sources
external or internal. The Ministers' report now restores the phrase 'internal
security' and gives all the discretion to the Government in power.
Take another case. One had imagined that the uproar over the Home Ministry's
order for security clearance before holding international conferences,
seminars, symposiums, or workshops in the country would compel the Government
to withdraw the circular. But the effect has been the opposite. Only minor
changes have been made in the reissued circular. The guidelines have once
again made it clear that participation of foreigners in conferences of
political, semi-political, communal or religious nature or those related
to human rights or sensitive technical subjects should not be generally
Participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, or Sri Lanka
have been once again singled out. It means that it is a policy decision
not to let people in South Asia mingle among themselves and develop an
entity of their own. How ridiculous this looks where the Prime Minister,
Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, is trying to bring Pakistan closer to India?
The circular's notoriety has spread far and wide. 1 believe that Attorney-General,
Mr. Soli Sorabji, was asked by many top British commentators during his
recent trip abroad: what is happening to India? On his return, he is said
to have talked to the Home Secretary who has reportedly assured him that
the circular is being modified. The first modification has not materially
changed the original circular. The second one may be more of the same.
The Home Secretary's assurance is not convincing. It sounds hollow because
the Human Resource Development Minister, Mr. Murali Manohar Joshi, has
issued an order to all universities that proposal for holding international
conferences; symposiums, seminars, or workshops require prior approval
of his Ministry. When asked if the circular was out of tune with the country's
ethos, he reportedly said that it was the need of the hour. Mr. Joshi
should remember the simple edict: no Government can suppress the people's
right to speak. So many dictatorships of the Left and the Right have tried
to do so but they all have come to grief. In the age of the Internet and
websites, people can hold online conferences and seminars. How can the
Government try to ban them?
The People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has already challenged
the earlier version of the circular. It is awaiting hearing in the Supreme
Court. It should come up when the Court reopens after the summer recess
in early July. It will put the Attorney General, a human rights activist
himself, to the test. Will he support the Government or stand up in court
and say: My Lord, I cannot defend the circular. If his relentless fight
against the Emergency were any guide, he would rather quit than defend
the circular. [Regrettably the Supreme Court has dismissed the petition].
The Home Ministry's circular is only a symptom, not the disease. The disease
is the Government's increasing sense of intolerance. It does not brook
criticism and wants to smother those who express dissent The Tehelka-
.com people were harassed after they exposed corruption in high places.
Even their books and papers were rummaged.
Outlook, an English weekly, has become a bee in the Govemment's bonnet.
lndira Gandhi used income tax sleuths to harass and humiliate those who
did not fall in line during the Emergency. Conforming to that style, income
tax officers, along with police officers, raided the offices of the magazine's
proprietor. They also searched the Bombay office of Outlook for 22 hours,
accosting the journalistic staff to know why certain stories were filed.
Floppies were removed and diaries confiscated.
The magazine's editor complained to the President of India. He also wrote
to the Prime Minister to register his protest: I appreciate that you,
your party and some of your advisors do not always agree with our point
view. But to order IT raids! There has been no reply. One vainly hopes
that the liberal Vajpayee will one day wake up. So far he has proved to
be only a mukhauta (a mask), as the RSS ideologue, Mr. Govindacharya,
Whose country is it anyway? Indira Gandhi gagged the press openly by imposing
censorship and blocking out authentic information. The BIP- led Government
is trying to do it through the backdoor. What is the difference? High-
handedness and arbitrary actions are being carried out with impunity as
much now as during the Emergency 26 years ago.
I have sent a copy of the Home Ministry's circular 'to the National Human
Rights Commission (NHRC) to draw its attention to the instruction that
foreigners should not be normally invited even to conferences on human
rights. My plea to the Commission is that the circular violates the norms
of an open society, which a human being has the right to enjoy. I think
the circular also violates Article 19 of the Constitution which guarantees
a citizen's right to form association. The Government can restrict it
only in the interest of public order or morality. This reasoning has to
be justified in a law court. There cannot be a blanket order like this.
The NHRC has come a long way. Human rights activists used to stay away
from it because it was regarded as a body to cover up the Government's
misdeeds. But in the past few years, the NHRC has become a place where
an Indian can go for redress.
The Government is now suspicious of the Commission because it has taken
to task the administrations in different States. In Orissa, the Commission
has found the Government wanting in coping with the relief work after
the super cyclone. Gujarat, according to the Commission, should be sensitive
to the requirements of the earthquake-affected in large areas of the State.
The Commission has told Delhi: the recent experience in Orissa and Gujarat
emphasizes the urgent need for an elaborate disaster management plan for
the future to deal with all natural or man-made tragedies and calamities.
Such advice cannot be to the liking of the Central Government, which wants
the commission to be a goody-goody body, submitting its annual report,
dotting this, and crossing the t's. The Commission, on the other hand,
has asked for amendments to the Freedom of Human Rights Act, 1993, to
have more powers to safeguard human rights. The Centre has not responded
to the Commission's request, which is 15 months old.
Strange, how quickly has the BJP Government got into the" shoes of
Indira Gandhi!" Is it the fault of the chair or of the party?