Sunday, March 13, 2016

Amitabha Pande - Fake encounters are seen as normal, legitimate and justified

The most perverse aspect of the revelations by two for mer home secretaries and a former Intelligence Bureau (IB) special director is not that the politicians who were in power manipulated intelligence inputs to serve narrow political ends. It is that the use of extralegal methods to `get rid' of persons perceived as threats to national security is seen as normal, legitimate and justified, as long as it can be established that there was an official basis for suspicion.

No one is horrified, least of all former public servants, that governments should routinely turn a blind eye to, or even bless, such operations. Gopal Pillai was not the home secretary when the operation against Ishrat Jahan and others was undertaken in 2004. Nor was R K Singh who succeeded Pillai in 2011. It is doubtful whether the home ministry was majorly involved in the planning of an operation undertaken at the state level. So, obviously , none of the home secretaries involved would have been complicit in the operation itself, or in the decision to `eliminate' the suspected terrorists.

Yet, their eagerness to show that there was credible information -and some of them go far enough to call such information `evidence' -to `prove' that Ishrat was a Lashkare-Taiba (LeT) operative and that the operation was undertaken on the basis of these credible inputs is as intriguing as it is shocking. Intriguing, because the normal tendency of a civil servant, particularly the one who retires, is to distance himself from controversial decisions taken in his time in office unless it shows him as a knight in shining armour. 

So why this unexpected fit of loquaciousness, especially on the part of Pillai who was known for his reticence and quiet competence? His revelations imply the following: One, that he was not party to his minister's attempt to use the home ministry affidavit to buttress the case against the Gujarat chief minister and that his political neutrality needs to be taken note of.

Killer Instinct
Two, that he was aware that the IB officers now being charged were acting on credible information they had and, therefore, had legitimate reasons for planning an operation to lure and entrap known LeT operatives.

Three, that skulduggery of this kind on the part of security agencies carries a moral (though not legal) justification if it is undertaken in the larger interests of `national security'. And that even as getting caught in the process of an operation gone awry is an occupational hazard, the government should try and protect the officers involved in the interests of maintaining their morale.

What is shocking here is the ethical ambivalence that seems to have embedded itself in the culture, the ideology of governance. While the police forces (and the military when used as a police force) have been known for long for their scant respect towards concepts like human rights -the domain of `bleeding heart left liberals' -the civil services and the magistracy were expected to be the fierce protectors of the rule of law, of fundamental rights, of constitutional propriety , and of ethical conduct.

Most of us who were part of the civil services saw this as our primary responsibility . (Conducting an inquiry into a fake police encounter was one of my first tasks as a subdivisional magistrate.) Not only has one witnessed an erosion of these values, but now it seems that even the pretence of maintaining these values can be given up without inviting any public opprobrium. Ethical ambivalence is now legitimate policy .

The pity is that we no longer even notice that there is a complete perv ersion of values. The security of citizens is conflated with the security of the state, the state apparatus and tho se who control the state apparatus. The sovereignty of the people is conflated with the sovereignty of the state and its territorial integrity. Security is conflated with public order and democracy . The exercise of constitu tionally guaranteed freedoms are se en as threats to achieving that order.

Security , instead of being a means to achieve certain ends, becomes an end in itself. And no one knows what that end is. A second set of perversions is ach ieved by the appropriation of securi ty as a concern not of the citizenry or the community but as a concern of the mandarinate, the police and the military . The citizen can question neither the arrogation of this power by the authorities nor the decisions taken ostensibly on his behalf.

Death as Defence
At its most benign, it is a justification for a nanny state that takes away from a citizen the most fundamental of his fundamental rights. At its most malevolent, it is a justification for brutality and repression. If the IB and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) have decided that a 20-year-old Home Science student trying to make ends meet for her family by working is, in fact, a deadly LeT operative who does not deserve to live, who are we old-fashioned civil servants, sticking to some outmoded notions of protecting human rights as a part of our essential duty , to question their verdict?

We live in perverse times.

The writer is a former secretary, government of India