Aggrieved by the silence and breaking of the silence frivolously (only after the Right to Information (RTI) Act was invoked), by top constitutional authorities, including the President of India’s office and the prime minister’s Office (PMO) to a letter written five months ago by six former chiefs of the Indian Armed Forces and 200 eminent people about national security and incitement to violence; former naval chief Admiral L Ramdas has issued a press statement of distress.
On Thursday, Admiral Ramdas wrote, “Even the mention of the threat to National Security has been treated with scant respect, and with a degree of authoritarianism and arbitrariness that does not bode well. That citizen’s voices are not being heard or heeded by the Constitutional bodies and elected leaders are clear signs that all is not well in our democracy.”
To recall, five months back, on 31 December 2021, the letter titled ‘Open Statement’ was addressed to president Ramnath Kovid, prime minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah, with copies to chief justice of India NV Ramana, chairman of the Rajya Sabha, speaker of the Lok Sabha, minister of defence, chief election commissioner, heads of political parties and others.
It highlighted concerns regarding “the events in Haridwar, Delhi and elsewhere, openly calling for genocide of Indian Muslims and other minorities." Two hundred eminent citizens had also signed the letter.
However, except for the chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra, who promptly acknowledged Admiral Ramdas’s letter, no one bothered to reply. This compelled transparency campaigner commodore Lokesh Batra (retd), one of the signatories, to file RTI applications to find out if any cognizance has been taken of this important letter.
The replies to repeated RTI applications filed at the PMO’s office stated, that “the interim reply is being sent to you; that the request contained in your application under RTI is being processed and reply will be sent to you as soon as possible.”
Admiral Ramdas says, “Regrettably, PMO took 117 days to provide a reply, on 31 May 2022 to the RTI request dated 4 February 2022, with no response at all to the original letter itself.”
The first appellate authority (FAA) of the president’s secretariat replied that “the letter was not placed before the president as only those matters are placed before the president which are mandatory as per the Constitution of India or as per Allocation of Business Rules 1961,” and so this matter does not fit into either!
The FAA of the vice president’s office replied that “no further action warranted.”
Says a disappointed admiral Ramdas about the RTI replies, “Commodore Batra’s set of replies, in response to his several RTI queries, shows the trajectory taken by our statement/ letter in each of the offices/ secretariats of the highest authorities to whom these were sent.
“You will note the mostly frivolous nature of the documented reasons for not taking note or action, including one which claims that since there were no physical signatures (on an emailed submission!) it did not warrant scrutiny.
"That none of the officers in the administration evidently thought this important enough to even bring to the attention of the actual authorities addressed by name/ title is deeply disturbing. This, despite the fact that there were six former service chiefs, many other veterans, senior retired secretaries to the GOI, police chiefs, well known public intellectuals and academics, who were among the signatories!”
Also, admiral Ramdas is aggrieved that, “it is important to emphasise that former service officers are addressed as ‘Shri’ by Constitutional Public Authorities (PAs), and not by their ranks – as is customary! Even the mention of the threat to National Security has been treated with scant respect, and with a degree of authoritarianism and arbitrariness that does not bode well.”
Commodore Batra’s RTI applications read as follows to all the concerned public authorities. The RTI application to the PMO’s office is an example:
Please provide me following information from the Record of this Public Authority. ‘RECORD’ is well defined in RTI Act, 2005.
(a) The date when Hon’ble Prime Minister perused the said ‘Open Statement’.
(b) Please provide the complete movement of the said ‘Open Statement’ after it was received in PMO on 10-01-2022.
(c) From records of this Public Authority, please provide complete brief on follow up action(s) taken on said ‘Open Statement’ giving date-line.
(d) Please provide me list of file(s)/records with reference number(s) on which the said ‘Open Statement’ was/ being processed.
(e) Kindly provide me scanned (B&W) pdf copies of relevant documents in the file(s)/ records through email.
The Open Statement of 31 December 2021:
Shri Ramnath Kovind President of India
Shri Narendra Modi Prime Minister of India
OPEN STATEMENT ON NATIONAL SECURITY AND INCITEMENT TO VIOLENCE
Dear Mr President, and Mr Prime Minister,
We, the undersigned, are writing to you about recent events in Haridwar, Delhi and elsewhere, openly calling for a genocide of Indian Muslims. In addition, other minorities – Christians,
Dalits and Sikhs are also being targeted.
India’s Armed Forces, the Army, Navy & Air Force, together with CAPFs and Police, are responsible for National Security - external and internal, respectively. All of the above have sworn to uphold India’s Constitution and our secular values.
We are seriously perturbed by the content of speeches made during a 3 day religious conclave called a Dharma Sansad, of Hindu Sadhus and other leaders, held at Haridwar between 17-19 December 2021. There were repeated calls for establishing a Hindu Rashtra and, if required, picking up weapons and killing of India’s Muslims in the name of protecting Hinduism.
At about the same time, a large number of persons gathered in Delhi and publicly took an oath resolving to make India a Hindu nation, by fighting and killing if necessary, and more such seditious meetings are being organised in other places.
Regardless of which persons or parties initiated calls for such genocide, Government of India and the Judiciary, at the highest level, need to take urgent action. We cannot allow such incitement to violence together with public expressions of hate – which not only constitute serious breaches of internal security, but which could also tear apart the social fabric of our nation. One speaker made a call to the army and police to pick up weapons and participate in the cleanliness drive (safai abhiyan). This amounts to asking the army to participate in genocide of our own citizens, and is condemnable and unacceptable.
In view of the current situation on our borders, any breach of peace and harmony within the Nation will embolden inimical external forces. The unity and cohesiveness of our men and women in uniform, including the CAPFs and Police Forces, will be seriously affected by allowing such blatant calls for violence against one or the other community in our diverse and plural society.
We therefore call upon the Government, Parliament and the Supreme Court, to act with urgency to protect the integrity and security of our country. The Constitution provides for the free practice of religion across faiths. We strongly deplore such polarisation in the name of religion. We urge you, Mr President and Mr Prime Minister, to take immediate steps to curb such attempts, and urge you to condemn such incitement to violence in no uncertain terms.
We also take this opportunity to urge leaders of all political parties to condemn these calls for what is tantamount to genocide of Muslims. They must restrain their own cadres and thereby set examples of their commitment to Secularism, Fraternity and Justice for all.
It is in the National Interest that all parties should refrain from using religion in politics and pledge to uphold our Constitution and the wellbeing of our people – thus ensuring both National and Human Security for all.
Admiral Ramdas and others
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)