New Delhi, Oct 26: The Supreme Court of India on Tuesday declined to revisit its 1995 ruling on Hindutva that described it as a way of life instead of a religion or sect or a particular way of worship.
The Apex Court made its views clear while hearing a plea filed by activist Teesta Setalvad who wanted the court to reconsider that judgment even as five states head to the polls next year. Her plea was to not only redefine Hindutva but also to ban its use in elections.
Setalvad's plea also came in the context of the top court already examining a politically explosive question arising out of a separate plea filed in 1990. That question is - Will a religious leader’s appeal to his followers to vote for a particular political party amount to electoral malpractice under Section 123 of the Representation of People Act.
Under the Representation of the People Act, promotion of, or attempt to promote, feelings of enmity or hatred on grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language, by a candidate or his agent, amounts to “corrupt practice”, and election of the candidate can be set aside on this ground.
A three-judge bench held in 1995 that “unless the context of a speech indicates a contrary meaning or use, in the abstract, these terms (Hindutva or Hinduism) are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people and are not confined merely to describe persons practicing the Hindu religion as a faith”. Hence, it said, using these terms could not impact the validity of the election of any candidate.
On Tuesday the SC said it is not examining the larger issue of whether Hindutva means Hindu religion, and whether the use of Hindutva in elections is permissible. The seven-judge bench said it is examining a nexus between religious leaders and candidates and its legality under Section 123 (3) of the Representation of People Act.
The bench headed by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur said that seeking votes in the name of religion is ‘evil’. It observed that people get influenced by appeals in the name of religion therefore, it would be proper that the appeal for votes should be made on the principles of secularism. “We cannot encourage the practice of asking for votes in the name of religion… political agitation advancing the cause of religion with intent to garner votes is not permissible,” it said.
However, the bench maintained that it was not examining the larger issue of whether Hindutva means Hindu religion or not, or whether the use of Hindutva and Hinduism in elections is impermissible.
“We will not go into the larger debate as to what is Hindutva or what is its meaning. We will not reconsider the 1995 judgment and also not examine Hindutva or religion at this stage… we will confine ourselves to the issue raised before us in the reference,” clarified the bench.
“In the reference, there is no mention of the word Hindutva. If anybody will show that there is a reference to the word Hindutva, we will hear him. We will not go into Hindutva at this stage,” it said.
The court’s observations came as senior advocate K K Venugopal sought a hearing on the interpretation of Hindutva. Appearing for former diplomat O P Gupta, Venugopal said the issue required a re-interpretation by the Bench.
Social activist Teesta Setalvad had also complained that the three-judge bench’s interpretation of Hindutva has led to “demands of homogenization and assimilation of minority communities and SC/ST in the Hindutva way of life.”
Setalvad, along with theater activist and author Shamsul Islam and senior journalist Dilip Mandal, had urged the bench to check the “devastating consequences” of the 1995 judgment, which, they said, caused Hindutva to “become a mark of nationalism and citizenship.”
In December 1995, Justice J S Verma, writing for a three-judge Supreme Court bench, had held that seeking votes in the name of Hinduism is not a “corrupt practice” under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act.
Adjudicating on appeals filed by political leaders including Bal Thackeray, Manohar Joshi, and R. Y. Prabhu, the bench said the mere fact that these words (Hindutva or Hinduism) are used in a speech would not make the speaker liable under sub-section (3) or (3A) of Section 123. “It may well be that these words are used in the speech to promote secularism and to emphasize the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian culture or ethos, or to criticize the policy of any political party as discriminatory or intolerant,” it ruled.