Congress Member of Parliament from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, October 7 to "affirm the constitutional principle of Article 19" and guarantee freedom of speech and expression stating that he is "deeply disturbed" by the FIR filed against the authors of an open letter to the PM in July.
In his letter posted on social media, Tharoor also reminded PM Modi of a powerful speech by him made before the US Congress in 2016, in which the Prime Minister called the Constitution a "holy book" and said "... freedom of faith, speech... and equality of all citizens, regardless of background, are enshrined as fundamental rights".
"As citizens of India we hope that every one of us can fearlessly bring to your notice issues of national importance, so that you can take the lead to address them. We would like to believe that you too would support the right to freedom of expression, so 'mann ki baat'... does not become 'maun ki baat'," Shashi Tharoor has written in the letter.
Earlier in 2019, 49 intellectuals, artists and celebrities, including Ramachandra Guha, Aparna Sen and Mani Ratnam, wrote to Prime Minister Modi to express concern over growing incidents of mob killing and the alleged weaponisation of the "Jai Shri Ram" slogan that made headlines in Bengal during national elections 2019.
The letter written by intellectuals stressed there was no "democracy without dissent", a point also raised by Shashi Tharoor in his letter to the PM.
"Our great country is built on the bedrock of coexistence of diverse and often diverging views and ideologies. This is what makes India a successful and vibrant democracy. Those who criticise or have opposing views to yours should not be deemed enemies or anti-national," he said. The Congress leader also cited Mahatma Gandhi’s courageous struggle and the struggle of many of those who courageously dissented against the British and fought for independence.
According to Bihar Police, the FIR has been lodged under several sections of the Indian Penal Code, including one relating to sedition, a charge that left Kerala filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishanan, one of the letter's signatories, in 'total disbelief".
"Since when has writing a letter of concern to the elected leader of the country... become the trigger for an FIR? Is the 'Naya Bharat' (New India) you wish to create one where citizens shall not be heard and their concerns not addressed?" Tharoor asked PM Modi.
"In 2018 the Honourable Supreme Court upheld the right of citizens to dissent, stating that 'Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst," the letter read.
Urging others also to send similar letter to the prime minister, the senior Congress leader posted a copy of the letter on his twitter account.