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Retired Bureaucrats Warn of ‘Growing Authoritarianism, Majoritarianism’ in India

An Open Letter by 65 ex-officials


In an open letter 65 senior retired officials from different Central services – including the 91-year old Har Mander Singh, a 1953 batch IAS officer – urge all public authorities and constitutional bodies to take heed. The full text of the open letter is reproduced below.


We are a group of retired officers of All India and Central services of different batches, who have worked with the Central and state governments in the course of our careers. We should make it clear that as a group, we have no affiliation with any political party but believe in the credo of impartiality, neutrality and commitment to the Indian constitution. A sense of deep disquiet at what has been happening in India has prompted us to write this open letter to chronicle our reservations and misgivings about recent developments in the body politic. What has gone wrong?
It appears as if there is a growing climate of religious intolerance that is aimed primarily at Muslims. In Uttar Pradesh, in the run-up to the elections, an odious and frankly communal comparison was made between the relative number of burial grounds and cremation grounds. The question was also asked as to whether electricity was being supplied equally to different communities during their religious festivals. All this without any basis in fact or evidence. The banning of slaughter-houses targets the minorities and affects their livelihoods as well. Such intolerance breeds violence in a communally charged atmosphere – even to the extent of a local leader in UP provoking an attack upon the residence of a superintendent of police, whose family was terrorised.

Vigilantism has become widespread. An Akhlaq is killed on the basis of a suspicion that the meat he has is beef and a Pehlu Khan is lynched while transporting to his place two cows he had bought and for which he had the necessary papers. Nomadic shepherds are attacked in Jammu and Kashmir on some suspicion as they practice their age-old occupation of moving from one place to another along with their cattle and belongings.

Gau-rakshaks function with impunity and seem to be doing so with the tacit complicity or active encouragement of state machinery. Punitive action against the perpetrators of violence does not take place promptly but cruelly, the victims have FIRs registered against them. The behaviour of vigilantes – who act as if they are prosecutor, judge and executioner rolled into one – flies in the face of law and jurisprudence. These actions undermine the rule of law and the Indian constitution since only the state – through its various organs and institutions – has the power to enforce the law.

Vigilantism has become popular as ‘anti-Romeo’ squads threaten young couples who go out together, hold hands and are perhaps in love with each other. A thinly-veiled effort to prevent a Hindu-Muslim relationship or marriage, there is no justification in law to harass these couples, particularly when there is no complaint from the woman of being ill-treated.

Student groups and faculty members on campuses like Hyderabad and JNU, who raise troubling questions about equality, social justice and freedom, are subject to attack by the administration, with a supportive government to back them. In Jodhpur, a planned lecture by a renowned academic was cancelled under pressure and the faculty that organised the event subjected to disciplinary action. What happened in Jodhpur has happened at other institutions as well. Argumentation and discussion about different perspectives – the life-blood not only of institutions of learning but of democracy itself – are being throttled. Disagreement and dissent are considered seditious and anti-national. Such attitudes have a chilling impact on free speech and thought.

Several reputed NGOs and civil society organisations are being charged with violating the provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act and the Income Tax Act. While we agree that genuine violators should be identified and penalised, we note with dismay that several of the targeted groups are those who have taken stands against government policies, expressed dissent or supported communities in cases against the state.

We are also seeing an ugly trend of trolling, threats and online intimidation of activists, journalists, writers and intellectuals who disagree with the dominant ideology. How does this square with free speech?

There is a growing hyper-nationalism that reduces any critique to a binary: if you are not with the government, you are anti-national. Those in authority should not be questioned – that is the clear message.

In the face of a rising authoritarianism and majoritarianism, which do not allow for reasoned debate, discussion and dissent, we appeal to all public authorities, public institutions and constitutional bodies to take heed of these disturbing trends and take corrective action. We have to reclaim and defend the spirit of the Constitution of India, as envisaged by the founding fathers.

  1. Vivek Agnihotri, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary General, Rajya Sabha
  2. S. Ailawadi, IAS (Retd.), former Chairman, Electricity Regulatory Commission
  3. P. Ambrose, IAS (Retd.), Additional Secretary, Ministry of Shipping and Transport, GoI.
  4. Ishrat Aziz, IFS (Retd.), former Ambassador to Brazil
  5. Balachandran, IAS (Retd.), former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
  6. Balachandran, IPS (Retd.), former Director General of Police and Chairman, Tamil Nadu Police Housing Corporation, Govt. of Tamil Nadu
  7. Balagopal, IAS (Retd.), former Resident Representative, UNICEF, North Korea
  8. Sundar Burra, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
  9. Chandramohan, IAS (Retd.), former Principal Secretary, Urban Development and Transport, Govt. of NCT of Delhi
  10. Kalyani Chaudhuri, IAS (Retd.), former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
  11. Anna Dani, IAS (Retd.), former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
  12. Vibha Puri Das, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI
  13. Surjit K.Das, IAS (Retd.), former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Uttarakhand
  14. Keshav Desiraju, IAS (Retd.), former Health Secretary, GoI
  15. G.Devasahayam, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary to Govt. of Haryana
  16. P.Fabian, IFS (Retd.), former Ambassador
  17. Bhaskar Ghose, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, GoI
  18. Hirak Ghosh, IAS (Retd.), former Principal Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
  19. Meena Gupta, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Environment and   Forests, GoI
  20. Ravi Vira Gupta, IAS (Retd.), former Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India
  21. Wajahat Habibullah, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, GoI, and Chief Information Commissioner
  22. Deepa Hari, IRS (Resigned)
  23. Vivek Harinarain, IAS (Retd.)
  24. Sajjad Hassan, IAS (Retd.), former Commissioner (Planning), Govt. of Manipur
  25. K.Jaswal IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
  26. N.Kakar, IAS (Retd.), former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Surface Transport, GoI
  27. John Koshy, IAS (Retd.), former State Chief Information Commissioner, West Bengal
  28. Dhirendra Krishna, IA&AS (Retd.), former Financial Controller, Irrigation Department, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
  29. Ajai Kumar, Indian Forest Service (Resigned), former Director, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI
  30. Arun Kumar, IAS (Retd.), former Chairman, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority
  31. Brijesh Kumar, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
  32. Harsh Mander, IAS (Retd.), Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
  33. Lalit Mathur, IAS (Retd.), former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI
  34. Sonalini Mirchandani, IFS (Resigned)
  35. Sunil Mitra, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI
  36. Deb Mukharji, IFS (Retd.), former Ambassador to Nepal
  37. Ruchira Mukerjee, P&T Finance Accounts Service (Retd.), former Adviser, Telecom Commission, GoI
  38. Anup Mukerji, IAS (Retd.), former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Bihar
  39. Pranab Mukhopadhyay, IAS (Retd.), former Director, Institute of Port Management, GoI
  40. Nagalsamy, IA&AS (Retd.), former Principal Accountant General, Tamil Nadu and Kerala
  41. Hari Narayan, IAS (Retd.), former Chairman, Insurance Regulatory Authority, GoI
  42. Amitabha Pande, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI
  43. Niranjan Pant, IA&AS (Retd.), former Deputy Comptroller and Accountant General of India
  44. Alok Perti, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Coal, GoI
  45. K.R.Punia, IAS (Retd.), former Principal Secretary, Govt. of Haryana
  46. R. Raghunandan, IAS (Retd.), former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, GoI
  47. K. Raghupathy, IAS (Retd.), former Chairman, Staff Selection Commission, GoI
  48. Babu Rajeev, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, GoI
  49. Ramani, IAS (Retd.), former Director General, YASHADA, Govt. of Maharashtra
  50. Julio Rebeiro, IPS (Retd.), former Adviser to Governor of Punjab and Ambassador to Romania
  51. Sayeed Rizvi, IAS (Retd.), former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, GoI
  52. Aruna Roy, IAS (Resigned)
  53. Manab Roy, IAS (Retd.), former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
  54. Umrao Salodia, IAS (Retd.), former Chairman, Rajasthan State Roadways Transport Corporation, Govt. of Rajasthan
  55. Deepak Sanan, IAS (Retd.), former Principal Adviser (AR) to the Chief Minister of the Govt. of Himachal Pradesh
  56. A.S. Sarma, IAS, (Retd.), former Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, GoI
  57. N.C.Saxena, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI
  58. Selvaraj, IRS, former Chief Commissioner, Income Tax, Chennai, GoI
  59. Ardhendu Sen, IAS (Retd.), former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
  60. Rahul Sharma, IPS (Retd.), Govt. of Gujarat
  61. Raju Sharma, IAS (Retd.), former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
  62. Har Mander Singh, IAS (Retd.), former Director General, ESI Corporation, GoI
  63. Jawhar Sircar, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, and CEO, Prasar Bharati
  64. Sudershan K. Sudhakar, IAS (Retd.), former Secretary, Govt. of Punjab
  65. Geetha Thoopal, IRAS (Retd.), former General Manager, Metro Railway, Kolkata

  • Balaji

    Where were you people during majority rule of Indira Gandhi who made all of you voice less with Emergency. You seem to relish emergency and anarchy. You people like to be in Banana republic and not in a country known for Tolerance in all walks of life.

  • Harshad Tirodkar

    I know my comments may result in me being branded as pro Govt. but I am not. I prefer the middle path where neither minority nor majority suffer. TThe article itself appears one sided. What is secularism? In Hindi it is dharmanirapeksh. That means none of the religions should get preferential treatment. Just like the Ganapati Pendals blocking the road are undesirable, the blaring loud speakers in the morning are undesirable. Freedom of speech is for everybody and not only for specific people. If any person expresses his unhappiness about the loud speakers, he has the freedom to express it and should not be trolled and made to retract. Dadri is extremely bad and should be condemned at all costs. But attack on police personnel at Azad Maidan should be condemned equally vocally. I have observed that those who call themsleves secular and vocal in media forget that there are ordinary people in a particular religion who want to lead peaceful life without having to answer every act just because it happens to be majority religion. The very use of word minority should be stopped in election since the basis of minority is religion. Will the secularists allow the word majority in place of Hindu. So please spare me and people like me, let them be from any religion. And I want to clarify one thing, I do not worship god, I don’t know what is Hinduism but I feel uncomfortable when it is made to look like being Hindu is criminal. The reply has turned out to be longer than expected. Please excuse me for that.
    And what is this term majoritarian government?

    • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

      “… without having to answer every act just because it happens to be majority religion.”

      Sorry, what was that? Hindus have to ANSWER for their every act? Since when? To whom?

  • Regupathy Santhanaragavan

    Best step to abolish atrocities towards mankind

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    I think letters (like comments in this section) are important to let the government and its friends know that dissent is brewing and shall no longer be silent.
    Letters are better than silence and action is better than letters – I agree totally with you.
    I hope their (and our) words shall translate into concrete action.

  • ashok759

    Nepal was earlier a Hindu monarchy. It is now a secular republic. So is Bangladesh.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    So help me out here, as I am struggling – you mean Hindus should also be called “minority”? Muslims, Christians, Sikhs etc should NOT be called minorities? What is your point, exactly? Sorry.
    And what you said about the Congress – well, I dont think they are in a position to do ANYTHING, play any tricks, so weak and almost non existent they have become.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    I was about to answer you, but then I saw Matty (below) has responded to you beautifully, point by point.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    I believe you are right, and fervently hope so!

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    “Are you of the opinion that Minorities get a preferential treatment over the Majority?”::::

    Yes, I believe that’s the point “Harshad Tirodkar” and “ProgressForIndia” are trying to make. Essentially, raising the bogey of “minority appeasement” and turning the secular argument on its head by saying “minority appeasement exists and is wrong because we are a secular nation and everyone is a minority so no one should be appeased”. Which is why he’s saying “The very use of word minority should be stopped in election since the basis of minority is religion”.
    And you have responded brilliantly to that.
    Its amazing how the majority gets fooled into believing that they have suffered and lost out on the good things in life because the “appeased” minorities have grabbed them. Its a delusion carefully cultivated and kept alive by the Sangh Parivar for their electoral benefit. The classic “divide-and-rule” strategy.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    You may be aware that what you (and Mr Balaji) wrote is called “whataboutery” these days. Whataboutery is when one deflects criticism of the current government or a current event by bringing up something from the past which is totally irrelevant to the present and asking “where were you when…..”.
    Whataboutery carries zero argumentative weight – it is essentially an absurd rhetorical diversion, meant to express disagreement and at the same time cover up for the lack of reasonable counter arguments to support that disagreement. In other words, expressing disagreement merely for the sake of it.
    You are better off just saying “I disagree” and leave it at that.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    You may be aware that what you (and Mr Balaji) wrote is called “whataboutery” these days. Whataboutery is when one deflects criticism of the current government or a current event by bringing up something from the past which is totally irrelevant to the present and asking “where were you when…..”.
    Whataboutery carries zero argumentative weight – it is essentially an absurd rhetorical diversion, meant to express disagreement and at the same time cover up for the lack of reasonable counter arguments to support that disagreement. In other words, expressing disagreement merely for the sake of it.
    You are better off just saying “I disagree” and leave it at that.

  • alok asthana

    Am so happy that Modi is not waking up even now. If he had, he could have taken corrective action and survived. Now it is sure that his eyes are closed, so he shall surely come to ruin. Another 2 years, or even may be 7, but his ruin is guaranteed.