The letter specifically criticized a controversial new citizenship law widely seen as anti-Muslim and the government’s proposed national register of citizens. Critics allege that, when combined, the law and the register could lead to millions of Muslims being declared illegal migrants.
The signatories included the former foreign secretaries Shyam Saran, Shivshankar Menon and Sujatha Singh. The letter urged the government to repeal the citizenship law, passed last month, and desist from setting up detention centers for Indians who do not qualify as citizens.
“We are apprehensive that the vast powers to include or exclude a person from the Local Register of Indian Citizens that is going to be vested in the bureaucracy at a fairly junior level has the scope to be employed in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner, subject to local pressures and to meet specific political objectives,” they said in the letter.The letter is unlikely to cause anxiety in government ranks. Since the prime minister, Narendra Modi, first came to power in 2014, public intellectuals and celebrities have come together to rebuke the government in open letters over the lynchings of Muslims and the suppression of freedom of expression. No one in the government has acknowledged the letters.
In April 2018, following two particularly horrific rape cases, 49 former civil servants wrote to Modi lamenting the “terrifying state of affairs” in the country and blaming his Bharatiya Janata party for its “culture of majoritarian belligerence and aggression”.
A few days later, to express their solidarity with these civil servants, more than 600 academics from India and abroad, including Noam Chomsky, wrote to Modi expressing their “deep anger and anguish” over the rapes.
“They are part of a pattern of repeated targeted attacks on minority religious communities, Dalits, tribals and women, in which rape and lynching have been employed as instruments of violence by gau rakshaks [cow vigilantes] and others.” the letter said.Far from taking such criticism on board, in October, the police in Bihar state charged a group of movie personalities and writers with sedition for writing an open letter to Modi censuring him for hate crimes and mob violence..