A first information report has been lodged in Bihar's Muzaffarpur against nearly 50 celebrities, including Aparna Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Ramchandra Guha for alleged sedition after they wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi voicing concern over growing incidents of mob lynching.
Police said the FIR was lodged on Thursday under several sections of the Indian Penal Code, including those related to sedition, public nuisance, hurting religious feelings and insulting with an intent to provoke breach of peace.
Reacting sharply to the registration of the FIR against eminent film personalities, writers and others, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged the country was moving towards becoming an 'authoritarian state' where anybody who said anything against Modi or his government was put behind bars.
The case was lodged following an order by Muzaffarpur Chief Judicial Magistrate Surya Kant Tiwari on a petition by local advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha, who claimed, among other things, that the letter 'supported secessionist tendencies'.
"The CJM had passed the order on August 20, accepting my petition upon the receipt of which an FIR was lodged at the Sadar police station here," Ojha said.
He said nearly 50 signatories to the letter were named as accused in his petition, which accused them of having 'tarnished the image of the country and undermined the impressive performance of the prime minister', besides 'supporting secessionist tendencies'.
The letter was written by 49 eminent personalities, also including filmmakers Mani Ratnam, Anurag Kashyap, Shyam Benegal, actor Soumitra Chatterjee and vocalist Shubha Mudgal in July this year.
It said that the lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately, while stressing there was 'no democracy without dissent'.
It also noted that the 'Jai Shri Ram' slogan was reduced to a 'provocative war cry'.
Rahul Gandhi, who was away in his constituency Wayanad in Kerala, denounced the FIR.
"Everybody knows what is going on in the country. It's not a secret. In fact, the whole world knows it. We are moving into an authoritarian state. It's pretty clear," the Wayanad MP, who was in his constituency to express solidarity with those protesting the night traffic ban on the highway passing through the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, told reporters.
"Anybody who says anything against the prime minister, anybody who raises anything against the government, is put in jail and is attacked. Media is crushed. Everybody knows what's going on. This is not a secret," he added.
Filmmaker Aparna Sen chose not to comment on the development.
"Sorry, no comments. The matter is subjudice," she told PTI when reached for reaction.
Expressing concern over the FIR, Adoor Gopalakrishnan said, "The registering of an FIR on the basis of a court order was worrisome. If it is true, it is a matter of concern."
"...This is undemocratic and will create doubts about the law and order system in the country," he said.
He said a woman and her followers were found shooting at Mahatma Gandhi's effigy on January 30,depicting what Nathuram Godse did in 1948.
"None of them have been labelled as anti-nationals, with even some of them managing to become MPs," he said.
Meanwhile, Benegal said the case makes 'no sense' as their open letter to PM was just an appeal and not any threat.
"The letter was just an appeal. Whatever the motive of the people, who are accepting the FIR and charging us with all kinds of things, it makes no sense to me. It was a letter appealing to the prime minister. It is not a threat or anything that will cause disturbance of peace or enmity between community," the director told PTI.
"It is a question of why it (FIR) was accepted. What is the meaning of it? Is it a threat to the PM or to the government or anyone? There is nothing. It is just an appeal. So why an FIR? What is the meaning of it," he said.