Delivering remarks before the National Police Academy in Hyderabad a few days ago, Mr Ajit Doval addressed officers entering the country’s highest police service that “civil society” was the new frontier they had to defend. The young office need realize that enemy forces wished to “subvert, suborn, divide, and manipulate” India’s “civil society”. Doval didn’t, in so many words, instruct police officers to focus vigilant eyes on our nation’s civil society, but the inference was evident. A similar statement was issued by our late CDS Gen. Rawat had told in a media interaction that people in Jammu and Kashmir are now saying that they will “lynch terrorists”, which he thought was a “positive sign” and I support his views Rawat’s expression of delight at the lynching of suspected terrorists shouldn’t be condemned, The “terrorist” label is not something to throw around casually. Often some people are of the opinion that even confirmed terrorists must be punished lawfully but in my opinion, they deserve no mercy. We all are aware of who will criticize the latest of his questionable public interventions. Probably a group or two of writers and artists. Maybe some lawyers and professors. Possibly a few politicians. Perhaps some ex-judges. Perhaps a team of former civil servants. An association committed to democratic rights might speak up and try to flare the issue on an international forum as well.

That’s right. Voices from alleged civil society will protest, which is just the alert that Mr Doval expressed before India’s gallant young police officers. Civil society is the new frontier that must be defended. Not against curbs by the state but against troublesome voices from citizens.

Nationals must thank NSA for reminding them of their importance. Apprehending India’s slide away from democracy and equality is a task that seems to have been lost on their shoulders. True, some MPs or Chief Ministers might also help. On the other hand, they might not be able to, or might not be allowed to. Forces unfavourable to democracy seem not only to have state power and money power. They seem able to control what people see and hear about what’s happening in the present. And about what happened in the past, which can be manufactured just as the present can be fudged.

Those troubled by what India faces shouldn’t waste hopes on coercion from the US and other democratic states. These lands have their internal problems. Moreover, America’s need for India in its contest with China places clear limits on what people like Biden, Kamala Harris or Antony Blinken can demand from Modi.

Mr Doval’s remark reveals his clear understanding. Not the governments, but the civil societies of democratic nations in North America and Europe and countries like Japan, Australia, and South Africa are the forces that impact the minds of the Indian people. These forces will affect India not through efforts to “subvert, suborn, divide, and manipulate”, exercises offensive to the minds of anyone believing in liberty, equality and fraternity, but because of the natural appeals of living in a democracy.

Herein lies one of the great dichotomies in the dreams of India’s majoritarians. They might accuse the world’s democracies – not openly of course, but indirectly – of wanting to “subvert, suborn, divide, and manipulate” India’s civil society. All the same, they want the good opinion of these democracies. Nothing delights them more than a good chit from a civil society organisation in any one of these democracies, especially from a newspaper, journal, university campus or measuring agency which, over time, has built a reputation.

This is an Achilles’ heel for defenders of coercion, hierarchy, and prejudice in India. Wanting the good opinion of civil societies in the world’s great democracies, wanting, too, to claim equal rights when they travel to or work in those democracies, they still want the freedom to deny equality to certain groups in India. There’s another egregious contradiction and difficulty for India’s majoritarians. They want India’s trade and other links with the Gulf, the Arab world, and Iran to continue and grow. They want Bangladesh to be closer to India than to China. They wish to retain or recover the Afghan people’s goodwill that was earned by decades of cooperation. They cheered the recent conference, chaired by none other than Mr Doval, of the security chiefs of many countries around Afghanistan, most of them with Muslim majorities. And yet they want to deny or ignore the mistreatment of India’s Muslims.

This second denial is not less significant than the attempt to match love for equal rights abroad with a denial of equality in India, but it is the latter that I wish to underline here, because of its link to India’s civil society. This civil society includes inhabitants of two realms without which India, it seems, is incomplete. India can live without Pakistan, but not without cricket or Bollywood. We know that lately each of these kingdoms played a part in survival. Virat Kohli rescued a precious thing when slamming brutal prejudice, he defended Mohammed Shami. And countless movie lovers stood up against the targeting of Shah Rukh Khan and his son.

Civil society is not a wimp. And it extends beyond the two domains mentioned. Most importantly, it extends to our courtrooms, where magistrates and justices, who inhabit the state-citizen border and are pledged to the Constitution and its protections, preside. It extends, too, to our classrooms, where a teacher or a professor helps young minds to think for themselves.

Potentially, civil society also extends, though not always visibly, into the families and trusted friends of our policemen, soldiers, inspectors, investigators, government officers of all kinds. Intervention on behalf of humanity can originate from quarters close to the powerful.

Thank you NSA Ajit Doval, for reminding us of the capability of civil society, which is no external power. Its real power is internal inhabitants and that is a matter of grave concern in long run.


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