“Dissent Is Democracy’s Safety Valve…”: Shashi Tharoor Writes To PM

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Congress MP Shashi Tharoor wrote a letter to PM Modi

New Delhi:

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday declaring himself "deeply disturbed" by the FIR filed against the authors of an open letter to the PM in July. Mr Tharoor urged the Prime Minister to "affirm the constitutional principle of Article 19" and guarantee freedom of speech and expression. In a two-page letter he posted on social media, he also reminded PM Modi of a powerful speech 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 wrote.

Urging all those who believe in #FreedomOfExpression to send this or similar letters to @PMOIndia@narendramodi urging him to affirm the constitutional principle of our Article 19 rights & the value of democratic dissent — even if more FIRs follow as a result! #SaveFreeSpeechpic.twitter.com/MDIrros64j

— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) October 8, 2019

On Friday, 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 this year.

The letter stressed there was no "democracy without dissent", a point Mr Tharoor mentioned 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 filing of the FIR against the authors of the letter had also been criticised by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who said, "We are moving into an authoritarian state".

"Anybody who says anything against the Prime Minister, anybody who raises anything against the government is put in jail and is attacked," he said on Friday.

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… 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?" Mr Tharoor asked the PM.

"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 concluded.

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