Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid emphasis on the significance of unity among the 125-crore Indian population on the 140th birth anniversary of the country’s first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. A statesman who played a stellar role in the Independence struggle, Patel was the chief architect of national integration in the country. He took up the awesome challenge of integrating over 550 self-governing princely States into the new independent India. Remembering the Iron Man of India is fine, but Modi’s appeal would be reduced to lip service if BJP fails to tone down its controversial Hindutva line. Unity will remain a pipe dream if Hindutva is promoted against the interests of other religions.
The Supreme Court Constitution Bench, which was examining its own 1995 Hindutva judgment, observed last week that its mandate does not include going into the permissibility of using religion in political speeches. Chief Justice of India TS Thakur, who heads the Bench, said political speeches should be judged in the context they are made. The Bench was responding to arguments made by senior advocate Indira Jaising, representing social activist Teesta Setalvad, who sought a complete divorce of politics from religion. Setalvad insisted a line must be drawn on the basis of secularism. But the Bench, reserving judgment, made it clear it was just finding out whether the bar on invoking religion under 1951 Article 123 (3) of Representation of People Act in political speeches was limited to only the religion of the candidate or to the religion of the voters. When senior counsel Shaym Divan, appearing for BJP leader Sunderlal Patwa, said it was for Parliament to revisit the issue, the Chief Justice shot back, “Why Parliament then sat over it for the past 20 years? If Parliament has failed, why can’t the Supreme Court intervene saying votes on the grounds of religion will be an electoral offence?”
The relevance of Hindutva cannot be in tune with what a pluralistic society aspires for. With so many religions in India, it would be ridiculous to even imagine hard-selling the idea of Hindutva. Though the majority community is represented by Hindus, ours is a democracy that believes in the idea of secularism. That is the very reason the Supreme Court sounded caution that seeking votes in the name of religion should not be allowed because “it could affect the secular concept of elections in our democracy”. Political parties must realise religion is a personal issue. Politicians may confine their religious activity to visiting shrines of worship. Speeches should be spared comments on any religion.