‘Is Constitution a mere administrative manual,’ ask eminent personalities in open letter

The statement has been signed by (anti-clockwise from top) former Supreme Court judge Justice J Chelameshwar, Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, Carnatic musician TM Krishna, and actor Sharmila Tagore, among others. (File)

Several prominent members of the civil Sunday issued an appeal to citizens, asking them to "introspect whether truth and non-violence — the two values held very dear to the heart of the Father of the Nation — continue to inform our actions in the public sphere".

Ahead of Republic Day and the National Voters Day (January 25), the letter, signed by former Supreme Court judge Justice J Chelameshwar, former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, former Army Commander Lt Gen Harcharanjit Singh Panag, filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan, actor Sharmila Tagore, vocalist TM Krishna, former UGC chairman Sukhdeo Thorat and former Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed, urges people to "constantly introspect and audit the working of the Constitution".

"Is the Constitution a mere administrative manual which enables the elected governments to claim legitimacy for abuse of power, and allows the citizens to convert liberty into license disregarding rights of others? Is it simply another text penned by ink, or a sacred text written in the blood of innumerable martyrs who transcended the barriers of caste, religion, region, ethnicity and language?" the letter says.

"The seventieth anniversary of the Republic is an appropriate moment to celebrate and introspect by peacefully observing the Birthday of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (Jan 23), Foundation day of the Election Commission celebrated as the National Voters Day (Jan 25), the Republic Day (Jan 26) and the martyrdom of the Father of the Nation (Jan 30)," the letter adds, asking citizens to "utilise this solemn occasion to celebrate our success, reflect on our current concerns, particularly about our plural, secular society, and resolve to fulfill the Constitutional goals envisaged by Dr. Ambedkar and our forefathers as summed up in the Preamble."

The statement comes amid widespread protest against the contentious Citizenship Amenmend Act (CAA) that grants citizenship to individuals who are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, or Parsi and who entered India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan by the cut-off date of December 31, 2014 — excluding Muslims.

Protesters have argued that the law is unconstitutional in that it makes religion a criterion for citizenship. Concerns have also been raised over the proposed nationwide NRC, combined with the Act. After protests spread, the government has sought to downplay its narrative on NRC, but the has come into effect.

Some protests have seen a brutal crackdown by the police, with Uttar Pradesh the worst-affected. The state saw violence erupting in 12 districts, including Firozabad, Rampur, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Bulandshahr and Bahraich. As per officials, 19 people lost their lives in clashes in December.

The government has defended the citizenship Act saying it is the responsibility of the country to provide a safe haven for minorities in the three neighbouring countries, as they face prosecution there.