Religion in Politics And Polls: SC Scotches Mischief Of India’s Pseudo-Liberals

R Jagannathan

Oct 28, 2016, 11:15 AM | Updated 11:15 AM IST

Supreme Court/Getty Images
Supreme Court/Getty Images
  • The Supreme Court should stick to the direction it has taken so far and not listen to pseudo liberals, who want to target parties that are believed to be rooted in Hindu aspirations or Hindutva.
  • The seven-judge Supreme Court bench hearing a petition seeking clarity on section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RPA), is on the right track. This section defines what constitutes a “major” corrupt practice under the Act, with one major focus being the use of religious appeals in electioneering.

    For starters, the bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur, and comprising six others – Justices Madan B Lokur, S A Bobde, Adarsh K Goel, U U Lalit, D Y Chandrachud and L N Rao – threw out a mischievous petition by Teesta Setalwad seeking a review of the 1995 court judgment, which said Hindutva was a “way of life” and not a religion per se. Setalwad wanted the use of Hindutva, which merely means “Hinduness”, to be outlawed.

    The point is this: when the court is trying to decide what constitutes corrupt practice, pseudo liberals are trying to focus the issue in a narrow area that suits their politics. And this when actual corrupt practices, including the use of money and freebies, are not being questioned or countered effectively.

    At yesterday’s (27 October) hearing the court made two key observations, both sensible.

    First, it observed that it will not go beyond the law and merely interpret its ambit and limitations. CJI Thakur affirmed that the bench would “answer the reference for interpretation of section 123 as well as the interplay between sections 98 and 99 of the RPA and nothing more.” The operative words are “nothing more”, which is what the court is supposed to do. It is not meant to read all kinds of loaded meanings into laws and then effectively make the law, as it has been doing all too frequently in recent years.

    Second, and more significantly, it questioned the view that religion ought to be completely divorced from politics and electioneering. The Times of India quotes CJI Thakur as making this observation:

    It will be difficult to accept as a proposition that a political party should have nothing to do with religion and those who have something to do with it must cease to be political parties. Can a particular political party not say it would assuage the hurt sentiments of a religious group? Will that amount to seeking votes in the name of religion?

    Further, he added, as if common sense needs reiteration.

    Secularism does not mean aloofness to religion but giving equal treatment to every religion. Religion and caste are vital aspects of our public life. Can it be possible to completely separate religion and caste from politics?

    In doing so, the court was only echoing the common sense position of culturally rooted Indian liberals. The late liberal Minoo Masani, who was a member of the constituent assembly himself, had this to say about the misinterpretation of the world “secularism” by India’s phony liberals. Writing in 1988, he said:

    India is not anti-religious. We are a deeply religious people. Our Constitution is not anti-religious, it is for religion. I was a member of the Constituent Assembly and I know we never meant India to be anti-religious. If you turn to the Constitution you will find that all religions are respected equally and protected. Religious instruction can be given in schools and various religious trusts can be formed. In other words, the Indian Constitution is pro-religion. It is not secular.

    It is only India’s pseudo liberals, who have interpreted secularism to something narrow, targeting only believers in one community.

    The logic of the bench’s position is thus sound. The very purpose of democracy is to articulate the concerns of various parts of the electorate, whether majority or minority or even an individual or a small social group. Some of these concerns may be trivial, or major, some may relate to an economic or social grievance, and some others may relate to religious issues.

    So it is foolish to think that religious concerns should not be addressed in a democratic way. Any move to make references to religious concerns or identity a malpractice is doomed to fail, for if something is forbidden explicitly, it will be pushed covertly.

    Example: Triple talaq may be a despicable practice, but if Muslims want to retain it they may well make this a religious issue – as they have a right to. If they can’t do so formally, they will do so indirectly – by saying Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to push Hindutva or that there is an attack on Islam. You don’t have to formally say “Vote for me, because I am a Muslim” (or Hindu, or Sikh) and make a direct appeal on the basis of religion. The Akalis have close links to the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, a religious body, and they often articulate religious concerns, but should they be banned from politics for this reason?

    The Supreme Court should stick to the direction it has taken so far and not listen to pseudo liberals, who want to target parties that are believed to be rooted in Hindu aspirations or Hindutva.

    Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.

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