There is nothing more important to the BJP government in India than controlling the narrative and managing headlines. And it seems they would love to manage ideas as well. Which explains the government’s latest move against retired officials from security-related organisations, effectively gagging them.
On May 31, the centre issued an order that bars retired officials from many agencies from writing about any issue that “falls within the domain of the organisation” without first getting a clearance from the current head of the concerned organisation.
The amended rules say that if this rule is violated, then the pension of that officer can be withheld. Many retired officials write books, or articles in newspapers and magazines, often drawing from their own experiences in government.
This order directly impacts them, which means we may no longer be able to read a piece on how to deal with terrorism from a retired RAW or IB officer or read a book on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) by someone who may have served on the border.
A new gag order
What is worse is that this gag applies to retired officials for the rest of their lives. Ex officers say a cooling off period, say of a year or two years, would have been a more palatable option.
Former Army Chief, General VP Malik, who lead the army during the Kargil war, told an Indian newspaper, “My worry is that if you are not permitting people who retire from services to share their experience, how will anybody be able to pass expert comments and analyse a particular event and learn from those events…the country will be the loser”.
The move by the centre is another poor reflection on India’s democratic credentials, which are sliding further and further down the ladder. The new rules betray a deep sense of insecurity harboured by the government, and are by no means the hallmarks of a strong, confident state.
Discussion and criticism are vital in any democracy. This order violates every democratic principle, including the right to free speech of the officers involved.
What was the need for these new rules anyway? Government servants are already subject to conduct rules post retirement for their pension which includes withholding that pension if the officer is found guilty of ‘grave misconduct’ such as disclosing any official secret information or documents.
Browbeating government critics
The new rules significantly widen the ambit of this and many retired officers see it as a tool to browbeat critics of the government’s current policies.
18 organisations covered by the new rule including the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing of the Cabinet Secretariat, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, the Enforcement Directorate, Narcotics Control Bureau, Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and more.
Certainly, India has learnt a lot from the experiences of those who have served the country in key positions. These officers have been true patriots, working in the most sensitive positions in government.
Barring them from speaking out and sharing their thoughts reinforces the perception that the BJP government is uncomfortable with different points of view or any view that may be critical of current policy.
A free flow of ideas and discussion is at the heart of a real democracy. Trying to control thoughts and ideas is the opposite of that and does not behove a country as great as India.
Don’t use national security as an excuse for more control. There are enough laws which govern that already. What is the government afraid of?
Nidhi Razdan is an award-winning journalist. She was the Executive Editor of NDTV. She has reported on Indian politics and diplomacy.