On July 7, at around 11 am, Nihal Singh Rathod, a human rights lawyer, received a call from a constable at the Pratap Nagar police station in Nagpur, Maharashtra. She had been directed by the police’s Special Branch to collect information about Rathod, the constable told him. No problem, Rathod said.
At around 1 pm, three police officials landed at Rathod’s office and asked for his passport, Aadhaar, driving licence, voter card, email, and social media accounts; names and addresses of his friends, relatives and any foreign lawyer that he is in contact with. They also demanded to know if he was a “casteist” and against “government machinery”. Realising the questioning was extremely intrusive for a “routine inquiry”, which he had been led to believe it was, Rathod asked the policemen under what authority they were doing it. They produced a document which mentioned the police were compiling a list of “suspects” to add to the Union War Book. Rathod’s name, he was shocked to find out, would be filed in the category “Caste Social Conflict Agent Provocateurs”.
The Union War Book suspect list is essentially a catalogue of the enemies or potential enemies of state. It is a “highly confidential document” and lists people that the Indian state suspects to be dangerous, a senior Maharashtra police official explained on the condition of anonymity. The Union War Book, he added, is a secret document which specifies the roles in wartime of the military, police, railways, road and sea transport, health and emergency services, civil aviation, and other branches of the state.
“The Union War book is a central document and provides guidelines on operational duties of different government departments in wartime,” another Maharashtra police official explained, also on the condition of anonymity. “It has a wide scope, covering all aspects that need to be dealt with in the event of war. It also contains a list of people who are deemed threats to the Indian state. At the state level the police’s intelligence wing is responsible for preparing this list of suspects.”
The suspects broadly fall in one of three groups. One, “known agents or sympathisers” of an enemy nation whose immediate detention is essential for national security. Two, persons whose detention would be necessary if there’s a conflict with the enemy country. Three, those who should be kept under surveillance at all times for as long as may be necessary.
Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management, explained that the Union War Book is drafted under the central government’s authority. “No separate War Book is kept independently by states. They are only required to prepare specific lists of threats and provide these to the Centre, for action in the event of war,” he said. “If they are adding the names of activists to any state list, they can be questioned on what basis such names have been included.”
But why would the Maharashtra police name a lawyer who has never faced a criminal case in a list of the enemies of state? The police wouldn’t say.
“I do not face a criminal case nor have I ever been summoned by the police as an accused. Clearly, they are collecting my personal information to snoop on me,” Rathod said. “They even showed my public interaction with Justice Kurian as an activity as if it’s an offence to meet a retired Supreme Court judge. I am shocked that a public interaction with a retired judge is considered anti-social activity that can lead to your surveillance by the police.”
Rathod, on fellow advocate Indira Jaisingh’s request, had gone to Delhi in late 2018 to participate in a programme with retired justice Kurian Joseph. He’d been working with Surendra Gadling until the senior lawyer was jailed in the Koregaon Bhima case in June 2018. Rathod also represented some of the accused in the matter. Presumably for this reason, Rathod said, he was one of the targets of the Isreali spyware Pegasus, as .
“Many people are aware that I’ve represented some of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case and the surveillance is being done with the intention of scaring me,” said Rathod, who has sent a letter to top police officials and Maharashtra’s home ministry, denouncing his profiling and surveillance as “unlawful and a criminal use of power”.
Rathod, 33, isn’t the only person in Nagpur to have been listed in the Union Book of War. Surendra Gadling’s wife Minal and a college professor and activist Arvind Sovani have been as well. Neither have been contacted by the police yet, however.
“I’m shocked to hear this. I wasn’t aware,” Minal responded when Newslaundry told her she featured in the list. “I am a homemaker and my life is limited to my family. They made my husband an accused in the Koregaon Bhima case and now they are putting my name in a list of the enemies of state. I don't know what to tell them."
Sovani wasn’t aware either. “It’s so surprising. I am just a college professor.”
The list is being prepared on the order of Basavraj Teli, deputy commissioner of police, Special Branch, Nagpur. Teli, in turn, is working at the directive order of the office of Madhukar Pandey, special inspector general, State Intelligence Department.
Asked why Rathod, Minal and Sovani have been named in a list of the enemies of state, Teli said, "I do not have any idea about this. It’s confidential communication and I cannot comment on it.”
Bharat Tangade, a deputy commissioner of police who oversees the compilation of the Union War book in the State Intelligence Department, said he could not talk about why activists are being added to the suspect list.
Madhukar Pandey did not respond to our queries, while home minister Dilip Walse Patil’s office said he would respond when he had the time. This report will be updated if they respond.