Constitution Bench declines to go into Hindutva verdict

The Supreme Court has declined social activist Teesta Setalvad’s plea to check the “devastating consequences” of its 1995 judgment that Hindutva or Hinduism is a “way of life” and has nothing to do with “narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry”.

A seven-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur, clarified that the Supreme Court is now examining only what constitutes corrupt electoral practice under Section 123 (3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

The court said it would not be going into the larger issue of whether Hindutva meant the Hindu religion.

Corrupt electoral practice

Specifically, the Constitution Bench is hearing arguments on whether it amounts to a corrupt electoral practice if a candidate ropes in the services of religious leaders to use their mass appeal to swing votes in his or her favour.

Ms. Setalvad; theatre activist and author Shamsul Islam; and senior journalist Dilip Mandal appealed to the Bench that the interpretation given in the December 11, 1995 judgment by Justice J.S. Verma had led to “Hindutva becoming a mark of nationalism and citizenship”.

Noting that India has reached a crossroads where “narrow and supremacist” interpretations of history, culture, social studies and law threaten the fundamentals of nationhood, the three citizens urged the court to undo the “devastating consequences” of the Ramesh Yeshwant Prabhoo v Prabhakar K. Kunte judgment.

Justice Verma had concluded in 1995 that “no precise meaning can be ascribed to the terms ‘Hindu’, ‘Hindutva’ and ‘Hinduism’; and no meaning in the abstract can confine it to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage”.

Classifying Hindutva as a way of life of the people in the sub-continent, he dismissed the idea of equating the abstract terms Hindutva or Hinduism with the “narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry”.

However, Ms. Setalvad and her two co-applicants said the court’s interpretation of Hindutva/Hinduism had today led to “demands of homogenisation and assimilation of minority communities and SC/STs in the Hindutva way of life”.

They contended that the judgment’s interpretation of Hindutva had curtailed faith in secularism and stifled India’s academic pursuit and scientific temper.

Bench declines Teesta Setalvad’s plea to check ‘consequences’ of 1995 judgment