Three left-of-the-centre citizens, top social activist and anti-communal crusader Teesta Setalvad, well-known academic Shamsul Islam and senior journalist Dilip Mandal, have, through a civil application, sought the intervention of the seven judge constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court to look into the crucial issue whether garnering votes on the basis of Hindutva is against India’s basic Constitutional premises.
The applicants say, they are of the view that the interpretation given to Section 123(3) and (3A) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 in the case of Dr Ramesh Yeshwant Prabhoo versus Prabhakar K.Kunte, reported in 1996 (1) SCC 130, “has had the effect of encouraging political parties to use religious appeals for garnering votes under the colour of the proposition that ‘Hindutva’ is not a religion but a ‘way of life’.”
They insist, “This has had devastating consequences leading to demands of homogenization and assimilation of minority communities and SC/ST in the Hindutva way of life”, adding, “Hindutva has become a mark of nationalism and citizenship. Such an interpretation has curtailed the faith in secularism, which is a basic feature of the constitution.”
The applicants have especially objecting to the interpretation of Hindutva, which says, “Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and it is not to be equated with, or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism”, as it aims at “Indianisation” or “developing a uniform culture by obliterating the differences between all of the cultures coexisting in the country.”
Objecting to this interpretation, the applicants say, “The above opinion indicates that the word ‘Hindutva’ is used and understood as a synonym of ‘Indianisation’, i.e., development of uniform culture by obliterating the differences between all the cultures coexisting in the country.”
Saying that this amounts to “misuse” of Hindutva or Hinduism “to promote communalism”, which should not go unchecked, the applicants say, “It is indeed very unfortunate, if in spite of the liberal and tolerant features of ‘Hinduism’ recognised in judicial decisions, these terms are misused by anyone during the elections to gain any unfair political advantage.”
They add, “Fundamentalism of any colour or kind must be curbed with a heavy hand to preserve and promote the secular creed of the nation. Any misuse of these terms must, therefore, be dealt with strictly.”
Pointing out that allowing such terms to be used for electoral purposes “can lead to a dangerous situation”, the applicants say, as a result, the proponents of different religions could “manipulate the vulnerabilities of religious beliefs that people hold”, as has happed “for the past two and a half years”.
They underline, recent articulations of a “narrow, supremacist variety have engendered a deep feeling of insecurity for minorities, free thinkers, atheists and all those who uphold the Constitutional ideal of an India meant for all, irrespective of caste, creed, gender, politics or faith.”
The matter, the applicants say, is “not simply” an issue of “a technical interpretation of the statute, as it relates to the issue of the relationship between a registered political party, its candidate, and those ‘leaders’ who campaign for votes during an election.”
Against this backdrop, the applicants have sought Supreme Court view on “whether a candidate who contests on the ticket of a political party which in its manifesto/plank appeals to ‘Hindutva’ as being the political agenda of its party, is not thereby guilty of corrupt practice within the meaning of Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.”