Top Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday joined the criticism against the center-ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after a sedition case was filed against nearly 50 celebrities, many of them from the south, for questioning mob killings in an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Those who are named include top artists such as Mani Ratnam, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Ramachandra Guha, Anurag Kashyap and Aparna Sen. It has met with widescale criticism especially in the south, since Tamil director Mani Ratnam and Dada Saheb Phalke Award winner Malayalam director Adoor Gopalakrishnan hold a public stature beyond sectarian divides.
Gandhi, who was touring Wayanad in Kerala on Friday, came out fully backing the celebrities. "Anybody who says anything against the prime minister, anybody who raises anything against the government is put in jail and is attacked. Media is crushed," he said.
"Everybody knows what is going on in the country. It's not a secret. In fact the whole world knows it. We are moving into an authoritarian state. It's pretty clear," he added. The Wayanad MP was in his constituency to express solidarity with the protests against the night traffic ban on the highway passing through the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, a vexed issue between Left-ruled Kerala and the neighbour BJP-ruled Karnataka.
The FIR was filed at Muzaffarpur in Bihar on Thursday, based on a chief judicial magistrate order in August. The order approved arguments in a petition filed against the July letter of the celebrities by local advocate Sudhir K Ojha. He had claimed that the letter allegedly "tarnished the image of the country and undermined the impressive performance of the prime minister" besides "supporting secessionist tendencies".
Reacting to the news, Adoor said the letter was not written with a political intent, nor was it against the government, he said. But it wanted to point out a tragic spread of mob killings in the country, including ones where the victims were forced to chant "Jai Shree Ram" before being beaten to death, he said.
"It was a humble submission, wrote under the thinking that the country is still democratic, " he said. He laughed at the sedition charge, but said: "I don't understand what's happening in this country. How can the court admit such a petition? People who praise Godse are not seen as anti-national? People who shot at Gandhi's effigy are roaming free as MPs. They are not questioned by any court?"