Labelling public-spirited citizens as “anti-India” and threatening action against them rings of authoritarianism, a group of 90 former civil servants said on Thursday in response to Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju’s statements about retired judges.

The retired bureaucrats, who are part of a collective named the Constitutional Conduct Group, addressed a letter in this regard to Rijiju. Former Indian Administrative Services officers Harsh Mander, Najeeb Jung and former Indian Police Service officer Julio Ribeiro were among the signatories to the letter.

On March 17, the law minister had claimed that some retired judges are part of an “anti-India gang” and are trying to make the judiciary play the role of an Opposition.

Over the last few months, Rijiju and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar have repeatedly criticised the collegium system of appointing judges, contending that it is opaque.

In the collegium system, the senior judges of the Supreme Court recommend names for the Supreme Court and High Courts and the government is expected to follow them.

The former civil servants, in the letter to Rijiju on Thursday, said that his statements appear to be “part of a concerted attack” by the government on the Supreme Court and its collegium system.

The signatories to the letter said that Rijiju and Dhankar, rather than engaging constructively with the Supreme Court and collegium on judicial appointments, have responded with venomous barbs.

“We are puzzled by your repeated criticisms of the Supreme Court collegium while simultaneously stating that there was no confrontation between the government and the Supreme Court,” the former bureaucrats said in an open letter to Rijiju. “To the average Indian, there does, indeed, seem to be a confrontation.”

“The government’s continued refusal to accept some candidates [for the post of judges] can only give rise to the suspicion that the underlying intention is to create a pliant judiciary,” they said in their letter.

The signatories claimed that the law minister was confusing the government with the country and construing criticism of the government as disloyalty to the country.

“To label public-spirited citizens as an ‘anti-India gang’ and threaten them with action which will exact ‘a price’ rings sharply of authoritarianism, particularly in the absence of any attempt to dialogue or engage,” they said. “These are abrasive statements unbecoming of your high post.”

They added: “We conclude by reminding you of a simple but cardinal truth: all organs of the state are bound by the Constitution and a government, simply because it is in a majority, cannot ride roughshod over Constitutional provisions regarding the separation of powers amongst the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.”