Eight prominent members of India's civil society, including former Supreme Court Judge J Chelameswar, film personality Sharmila Tagore and ex-Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, issued an appeal to citizens, asking them to "introspect and audit" the working of the Constitution ahead of the 70th anniversary of the Republic.
Their appeal comes amid widespread protest against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), some of that have seen brutal crackdowns by Indian police, with heightened concerns over proposed nationwide NRC combined with the Act.
In an open letter issued on January 12, they asked, "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?"
Stressing that peaceful reconciliation of conflicting interests, healthy public discourse, and respect for dissenting views are at the heart of democracy, they urged people 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", NDTV reported
Under the title ''70 years of Indian Constitution-A Defining Moment'', the signatories of the letter said 70 years of the working of the Constitution provided an "opportunity to celebrate our successes, and also to introspect and resolve to overcome our shortcomings".
"The 70th anniversary of the Republic is an appropriate moment to celebrate and introspect by peacefully observing the birthday of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (January 23), foundation day of the Election Commission celebrated as the National Voters Day (January 25), the Republic Day (January 26) and the martyrdom of the Father of the Nation (January 30)," they said.
"We appeal to all citizens to utilise this solemn occasion to celebrate our success, reflect on our current concerns, particularly about our plural, secular society, and resolve to fulfil the Constitutional goals envisaged by Dr Ambedkar and our forefathers as summed up in the Preamble," they added.
Apart from Mr Quraishi, Mr Chelameswar and Sharmila Tagore, the letter has been signed by former Army Commander Lt Gen Harcharanjit Singh Panag, filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Carnatic musician and creative personality TM Krishna, former chairman of UGC and ICSSR Sukhdeo Thorat and former member of the Planning Commission Syeda Hameed.
However, the citizenship law grants Indian citizenship to non-Muslim migrants 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.
The government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have defended the law, saying the minority groups from the three countries have no other option but to come to India when they face religious persecution there.