A group of 102 former civil servants on Sunday wrote an open letter to Indian citizens, criticising recent statements made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other high-ranking officials about the country’s civil society.

“These portents indicate a deliberate strategy to deny civil society the space and wherewithal for its operation,” the letter said.

The signatories, under the Constitutional Conduct Group, include former civil servants Anita Agnihotri, Gurjit Singh Cheema, AS Dulat, KP Fabian, Wajahat Habibullah, Harsh Mander and Mira Pande.

As an instance of the comments against the civil society, the signatories pointed out that Modi had referred to those protesting against the farm laws as “andolaneevis” (those who live off agitations). Speaking in the Rajya Sabha in February, the prime minister had said that “andolaneevis” were like parasites.

“Electoral compulsions might have led the prime minister to announce the decision to repeal the hated [farm] laws, but the damage done to the nation’s polity and social fabric will be hard to repair,” the signatories to the letter stated.

The former civil servants also noted that recent statements made by National Human Rights Commission Chairperson Arun Mishra and Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat had “heightened their anxiety with regard to the articulation of the state-civil society interface”.

Speaking at a Foundation Day event of the National Human Rights Commission last month, Mishra had said that it had become a norm to “accuse India of human rights violation at the behest of international forces.”

Meanwhile, in an interview earlier this month, Rawat had claimed that people of Jammu and Kashmir were now willing to “lynch terrorists”. Rawat said that the development was a “positive sign”.

The signatories to the letter asserted that these comments were in consonance with the “New Doval Doctrine” – a reference to another recent statement made by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

Addressing a passing out event of police recruits on November 12, Doval had said that civil society was the new frontier of war which can be manipulated to hurt a country’s interests.

“The new frontiers of war, what you call the fourth-generation warfare, is the civil society,” Doval had said.

In their open letter, the civil servants observed that the term “fourth-generation warfare” was used in context of a conflict between the country and non-state actors, such as terror groups and insurgents.

“Civil society now finds itself placed in this company,” the letter said. “Earlier, the term ‘Urban Naxal’ was being used to denigrate individual human rights activists. Clearly, under the New Doval Doctrine, people like Father Stan Swamy would become the arch enemy of the Indian state and the prime concern and target of its security forces.”

Tribal rights activist Swamy was one of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case. The 84-year-old, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and contracted the coronavirus infection in prison, was arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act on October 8 last year. He died on July 5 after being denied bail repeatedly as an undertrial at the Taloja Jail in Mumbai.

“The NSA’s [national security advisor] clarion call for an onslaught on a demonised civil society is of a piece with the narrative of hate targeting defenders of Constitutional values and human rights that is regularly purveyed by the high and mighty in the establishment,” the letter stated.