The Bombay High Court has dismissed a petition seeking action against former Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and BJP MP Sudhanshu Trivedi for their statements on Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and other icons, saying their remarks prima facie do not constitute an offence under any criminal law. The high court also said that the statements reflect the perception and opinion of the speaker about those figures with an aim to persuade the audience, and the intention appears to be to enlighten society for its betterment. The HC's order was made available recently. Koshyari, whose tenure was dogged by controversies caused by his utterances about Shivaji Maharaj, social reformers Mahatma Phule and his wife Savitribai and Marathi people, stepped down from the post of the governor last month.
He had faced flak for calling Shivaji Maharaj an "icon of olden times", while Trivedi had allegedly said that the founder of the Maratha empire had apologised to Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Justices Sunil Shukre and Abhay Waghwase, on March 20 dismissed a petition filed by Panvel resident Rama Katarnaware, who belongs to the Scheduled Caste (SC) community. The petitioner claimed that the statements made by Koshyari and Trivedi who are non-SC or Scheduled Tribes (ST) members, at public speeches are disrespectful to these late political figures who were held in high esteem by members of society in general and members of the SC/ST communities in particular. The petitioner referred to several objectionable statements made by Koshyari and Trivedi on Shivaji Maharaj, Mahatma Phule and Savitribai Phule and 'Marathi manoos'.
However, the bench in its order, said, "An in-depth consideration of the referred statements would tell us that they are in the nature of the analysis of history and the lessons to be learnt from history. "They also show the intention of the speaker, which is that at least in the present times, we should learn from history and also realise the consequences of following certain traditions and what may happen perhaps for the worst, if those traditions are followed," the bench said. It further said that these statements primarily reflect the perception and opinion of the speaker about those figures with an intention to persuade the audience, to whom they have been expressed, to think over and act in a way which is good for society. The intention behind the statements appears to be the enlightenment of society for its betterment, as perceived by the speaker, the bench said.
"These statements, therefore, cannot be seen, by any stretch of the imagination, to be disrespectful to any great person, held in high esteem by the members of the society in general and by the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in particular," the judges said. In view of the above, the statements, which were made, do not prima-facie constitute any offence punishable under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act or any other criminal law, they said. The counsel for the petitioner submitted that the respondents are "highly powerful and influential authorities" and it is only a constitutional court like this that can issue appropriate directions for the registration of the offences and monitor the progress of the investigation.
"In so far as the powers of this court are concerned, there can be no second opinion. This court in the exercise of its extraordinary power under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, can certainly issue directions for upholding the cause of justice. But, the question is as to whether or not such a power can be invoked by the petitioner here, and this question we answer as in the negative," the bench said. The reason being that, we do not see a prima-facie constitution of any of the alleged offences based on the alleged objectionable statements, it added.