Congress leader Shashi Tharoor has shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing "strong protest" over the registering of an FIR against 49 eminent citizens who had raised concerns about the rising mob lynching cases.
In his letter dated October 7, the Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram also said those criticising the prime minister should not be considered "anti-nationals".
Tharoor urged Modi to take a public stand welcoming dissent and assure the nation of his "commitment to upholding Freedom of Expression even when it involves disagreement with you or your government."
India's history as an independent nation would have been a different one if those who dissented under the British Raj had not shown the courage to do so, he said.
"We are deeply disturbed by the FIR filed in Muzaffarpur, Bihar against a group of 49 concerned Indian citizens, who wrote a letter to you, on July 23, 2019, highlighting the rise of mob lynchings in the country," he said in the letter.
"We would like to register out strong protest against the FIR," he added.
Tharoor said, "Mob lynching, whether triggered by communal hatred or triggered by rumours of child kidnapping, has become a disease that is spreading rapidly, and these citizens did the right thing in bringing it to your notice."
Pointing out that there was no democracy without dissent, he said India had been built on the "bedrock of co-existence of diverse and often diverging views and ideologies".
"That is what makes India a successful and vibrant democracy," he added.
"As citizens of India, we hope that everyone 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 said.
Tharoor also pointed out that Modi while addressing a joint meeting of the US Congress in 2016, had said the Constitution was a "real holy book" of his government.
"However, some of the actions of your government have contradicted your statement. Does this mean that you have changed your opinion on these fundamental issues?" Tharoor asked.
An FIR was filed at Muzaffarpur in Bihar on October 3 against 50 eminent persons, including Ramchandra Guha, Mani Ratnam, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Aparna Sen, who had written an open letter to the prime minister, raising their concern over growing incidents of mob lynching.
"Those who criticise or have opposing views to yours should not be deemed enemies or anti-national. Without criticism there can be no improvement. If we are all blind to the problems that exists and impact Indian citizens, we risk becoming an authoritarian regime, contrary to the values enshrined in our Constitution," Tharoor said.
The former Union minister also wanted to know since when had writing a letter to the elected leader of the country 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? Is this Naya Bharat that you wish to create, one where citizens shall not be heard and their concerns not addressed?
"Is this Naya Bharat that you envisioned one where all parties and individuals disagreeing with the ruling majority will be outlawed and treated as enemies of the state?" Tharoor asked.
He also asked whether this was the "Naya Bharat where journalists are arrested for exposing failures of governance".
The FIR was lodged after a chief judicial magistrate passed an order on a petition filed against the celebrities before his court.
The petition had claimed that the celebrities allegedly "tarnished the image of the country and undermined the impressive performance of the prime minister" besides "supporting secessionist tendencies".
Ace film director Adoor Gopalakrishnan had on Friday expressed concern over the FIR, saying it was undemocratic and will create doubts about the law and order system in the country.