Saturday 30 July 2016
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"Secularism Is Non-negotiable"

FORMERSupreme Court judge V.R. Krishna Iyer suggests that the RPA be amended to make it conform to India's secular ideals

Comment on the Supreme Court ruling in the Manohar Joshi case. 

"I would like to emphasise certain fundamentals which may or may not reflect on the soundness of the judgement. First of all, secularism is a fundamental feature of our Constitution. The Supreme Court has held in the S.R. Bommai case that the character of the Indian republic being secular, it is part of the basic structure of the Constitution and therefore inviolable. The question then is, what is secularism? The demand for a Hindu rashtra, like the demand for an Islamic republic, is theocratic in character and therefore anti-secular in its soul. So anything which violates this basic secularism by invoking theocratic sentiments is anti-Constitutional. I use the word "anti" as a stronger alternative to "un-"Constitutional.

But the court has held that Joshi's speech, in which he said the first Hindu state would be established in Maharashtra, did not amount to a corrupt practice.

What amounts to a corrupt practice is a lesser issue—what is more basic is if there is a subversion of the secular nature of the Indian republic.

The Representation of the People Act (RPA) must be so read as to be harmonious with this secular imperative of the Constitution. This is the test applicable in any and all circumstances. If the RPA allows a communal appeal contrary to the basic fundamentals of the Constitution, then what is bad is the RPA. The inference here is, the Act must be so read as to conform to the basic feature of the Constitution as laid down in S.R. Bommai's case

. I confess I haven't gone into the details of the judgement and am not vivisecting its logic. I am just emphasising the nonnegotiable aspect of secularism. The court must uphold the secular rather than the communal. We can never contemplate with equanimity Hindu Raj because, as Gandhi said long ago, "India belongs to all religious communities with equal share".

What fallout do you anticipate?

The Supreme Court is not the only instrumentality that shapes the direction, dimension and destiny of the nation. Whatever the impact of the judgement, if we are able to generate secular feelings, nothing can harm the true secular opinion of the Indian people. We need not attribute to judicial pronouncements greater potency than they possess. After all, the judgement of the court may be reversed in a later ruling. The judgement of 11 judges in the Golaknath case was overruled without a tear by a bench of 13 judges. We, the people of India, shall not be panicked. Ultimately, it is the supremacy of the people's convictions that the intellectual sector must mould.

The fallout of this judgement depends on our politicians and on public opinion. If we can mobilise people's opinion in favour of the burning urgency of secularism and infuse it in every cell of our republic's blood, we can save the country. If we succumb to Islamic or Hindu fundamentalism, inevitably the country will befragmented and will perish. This is the essence of the nation which is reflected in the preamble to the Constitution.

The media and the intellectuals have to mobilise secularists so intensively that no party can possibly expect any benefit from inflammatory communalism. Instead of attacking the ruling, let us avoid the trap and not exaggerate its importance.

The court has dwelt at length on "Hindutva" and its synonymity with Indianisation. But isn't the common man's perception of it linked with the Masjid demolition?

When a vicious man uses the expression Hindutva, it has a different meaning than when a Vivekanand uses it. You have to see who is using the term and how and in what context. Yes, Hindutva could well be substituted by the term dharma. But we are coloured by the context here... there is an election, votes are being cast and there is religious differentiation. That gentleman from Pakistan, L.K. Advani, he may not have an idea of Hindutva.

 

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AUTHORS: Bhavdeep Kang
SECTION: National
SUBSECTION: Cover StoriesInterviews
OUTLOOK: 27 December, 1995
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