Top police officials in states across the country received directions to keep an eye on universities where students may take part in “activities threatening” India’s integrity, and to infiltrate their WhatsApp groups after a meeting of high-ranking police authorities in December, The Indian Express reported on Monday. The event was a yearly conference of directors and inspectors general of police, and was addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Emphasis has been laid at the conference on being in touch with the student community, to have prior knowledge of any potentially sensitive situation and prepare for it,” an unidentified officer at the rank of director general of police said. “We should not be caught in a situation where someone springs a surprise on us.” Senior police officers, who attended the event, said the aim was to be aware of any activity that occurs on university campuses.
The directives were included in a long list of “action points” that was shared with police personnel across the country after the event that was held between December 6 and December 8 at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Pune.
Every police station has been instructed to list out actions taken over the span of a year with respect to the stated objectives. Following this, the reports will be collected and reviewed by each state and agency and then submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
On surveilling WhatsApp groups, a senior Indian Police Service official said that it was standard practice to infiltrate the forums on the platform that are run by political parties and others. “At every level, we make sure our people are part of WhatsApp groups run by different political parties, by those of right-wing and left-wing thought, of Muslims, Dalits, trade and labour unions, students and other organisations and bodies planning protests or demonstrations,” the official said.
The order to police officials included reading tweets and retweets of the public to analyse the general mood of the population, a proposal to treat inter-religious divisive remarks as hate speech, and increase police security in schools, among other instructions.
It also directed officials to ascertain the link between the recent alleged terrorist conspiracies and attacks with Hyderabad.
The three-day conference had committees of DGPs present reports on internal and external cybersecurity such as terrorism, coastal security, and cyber risk. The prime minister’s orders come after the presentation made by the committees.
In 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked the country’s security forces to make the “negligible participation of Indian Muslims in international terrorist theatres” public to combat radicalisation in any part of the country.
The directives came amid anti-Citizenship Act protests that were mainly led by students in December. The new citizenship law, notified on January 10, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The Act has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims, leading to protests against it. At least 29 people have died during the protests with 19 in Uttar Pradesh, six in Assam, two in Karnataka – all ruled by the BJP. Two people were killed in West Bengal in January.