Eminent personalities urged the citizens of the country to “introspect and audit” the working of the Constitution on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Republic.

“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?” the statement read. “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?”

The signatories are former Supreme Court Justice J Chelameswar, former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, ex-Army commander Lieutenant General Harcharanjit Singh Panag, actor Sharmila Tagore, filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan, singer TM Krishna, former University Grants Commission chairperson Sukhdeo Thorat, and former Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed.

Seventy years ago, India declared itself a sovereign, democratic republic to secure justice, liberty, equality, and promote fraternity among all its citizens. “We have come a long way since then,” the signatories said. “We have made democracy and universal franchise work against all odds, and proved the many prophets of doom wrong.”

The statement noted that 70 years of the working of the Constitution provided an opportunity to celebrate the country’s successes, and a scope for introspection so that the shortcomings can be overcome. Peaceful and harmonious reconciliation of opposing interests, a healthy public discussion, and respect for dissenting views were at the heart of democracy, it said.

The signatories asked people to contemplate whether truth and non-violence, which were dear to Mahatma Gandhi, continued to direct our actions in the public sphere. They said that it was every generation’s duty to continuously introspect and audit the working of the Constitution.

“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 fulfill the Constitutional goals envisaged by Dr [BR] Ambedkar and our forefathers as summed up in the Preamble,” it concluded.

The statement came amid nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The law, notified on January 10, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The Act has been widely criticised and sparked protests for excluding Muslims. At least 26 people died in protests against the legislation last month.