Case whether MLA can take oath of office in the name of spiritual guru

Can a legislator take oath of office in the name of his spiritual guru whom he considers and believes as God? The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati and asked him to render assistance to decide on this important question of law.

A Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and Anil R. Dave also asked senior counsel Gopal Subramanium and M.N. Krishnamani, who were present in the court, to give their valuable suggestions in deciding the case.

The question involved in the case is whether the oath taken by the appellant, Umesh Challiyil, then a member of the Kerala Assembly, in the name of Sree Narayana Guru, whom he considers and believes as God, under Article 188 of the Constitution was liable to be declared invalid on the ground that it was not in the form prescribed in the third schedule of the Constitution.

Mr. Challiyil of the Janadhipathya Samrakshana Samiti was sworn in as Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in 2001 in the name of the Guru on his winning the election from Kodungalloor.

High Court verdict

The Kerala High Court, acting on a writ petition filed by Haridas from Kozhikode, held that the oath “does not conform to the constitutional mandate, since the form prescribes the oath to be taken in the name of God or solemnly affirmed, whereas he took oath in the name of Sree Narayana Guru.”

Assailing the verdict, Mr. Challiyil said “the High Court went wrong in not considering the real purpose of mandate under Article 188 of the Constitution, that the member of the State Legislature should take pledge that he will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution and also uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India, and as a guarantee for this, he should take oath in the name of God. Therefore, there is nothing wrong if he takes oath in the name of Sree Narayana Guru whom he considers and believes as God.”

Article 188

He said the High Court also went wrong in holding that the oath should be taken exactly in the form given in the third schedule. Article 188 says:

“Every member of the Legislative Assembly or the Legislative Council of a State shall, before taking his seat, make and subscribe before the Governor, or some person appointed in that behalf by him, an oath or affirmation according to the form set out for the purpose in the third schedule.”

The form of oath provided under the third schedule for the member of the State Legislature reads: “I, A.B., having been elected (or nominated) a member of the Legislative Assembly (or Legislative Council), do swear in the name of God/ solemnly affirm that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India and that I will faithfully discharge the duty upon which I am about to enter.’’

The appellant said “it is seen that the mandate under Article 188 is to take oath in accordance with the form and therefore there is nothing wrong in naming the God or using the name of the Guru, whom he considers as God. If the form set out in the third schedule is substantially followed, it has to be treated as it is in accordance with the prescribed form and the contrary view taken by the High Court is unsustainable.” He sought a direction to quash the impugned judgment.

The Bench directed that the matter be listed for further hearing on February 6, 2013.

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