Congress Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Gowda on Tuesday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take a public stand welcoming dissent and assure the nation of his commitment to upholding freedom of expression, while expressing protest over the FIR against 49 “concerned Indian citizens.”
He also questioned whether in ‘Naya Bharat’ that the Prime Minister has promised the nation, are FIRs going to be filed every time a citizen is critical of the government or its policies.
“… we would like to register our strong protest against the FIR, against the group of 49 concerned Indian citizens who had written to you.
“We urge you to take a public stand welcoming dissent and assure the nation of your commitment to upholding freedom of expression even when it involves disagreement with you or your government,” Gowda said in his letter to Modi.
The Congress MP was referring to an FIR lodged in Muzaffarpur last week against 49 celebrities, including Ramchandra Guha, Mani Ratnam and Aparna Sen, who had written an open letter to Modi raising concern over the growing incidents of mob lynching.
The FIR was lodged after an order was passed by Chief Judicial Magistrate Surya Kant Tiwari two months ago on a petition filed by local advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha.
The signatories of the letter were named as accused in his petition in which they allegedly “tarnished the image of the country and undermined the impressive performance of the prime minister” besides “supporting secessionist tendencies”.
The FIR was lodged under sections of the Indian Penal Code, including those relating to sedition, public nuisance, hurting religious feelings and insulting with an intent to provoke breach of peace.
“Since when has writing a letter of concern to the elected leader of the country who is responsible for the welfare of each of its citizens irrespective of their caste, creed, gender, religion, or political opinion become the trigger for an FIR?”
“In the ‘Naya Bharat’ that you have promised the nation, are FIRs going to be filed every time a citizen is critical of the government or its policies?” Gowda asked.
“Is the ‘Naya Bharat’ that you wish to create one where citizens shall not be heard and their concerns not addressed? Is the ‘Naya Bharat’ that you envision one where all parties and individuals disagreeing with the ruling majority will be outlawed and treated as enemies of the state?
Is the ‘Naya Bharat’ that you proclaim one where journalists are arrested for exposing failures of governance?” he further questioned.
A letter was written by 49 eminent personalities, including filmmakers Mani Ratnam, Anurag Kashyap, Shyam Benegal, actor Soumitra Chatterjee as well as vocalist Shubha Mudgal in July this year.
It had said the lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately, while stressing that there was “no democracy without dissent”.
Pointing out that Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees each and every citizen of India the Fundamental Right to freedom of speech and expression, Gowda said, “We are proud citizens of India and revere the values embedded in its Constitution. As the Prime Minister of our country, we look to you to protect these values.”
“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 that the ‘mann ki baat’ of the well-meaning citizens of India does not turn into a ‘maun ki baat’,” he added.