On 19 and 20 October 2016 the Supreme Court held its first two days of hearings to review the Hindutva Judgement that had been pending for 20 years. The next hearing is on October 25. In the two days of discussions to kick off a process that according to Supreme Court Advocate Rana Raj K Singh may last up to a year, Chief Justice TS Thakur said “the essence, the ethos of our constitutional system is secularism… religion and politics don’t mix.” For secular democrats the statement is a sweet song of hope following two decades of orchestrated Hindu nationalism in the wake of the Babri Masjid Ram Temple violence, a period marked by continuing waves of low intensity personal violence and several murders of members of minority communities by gangs of RSS pracharaks, VHP and Bajrang Dal hooligans or other groups of louts from the forty and more organisations belonging to the Sangh Parivar.
Interspersed with the organised mass violence against communities in the name of saving cow and direct religious hatred there have been episodes of intense ideological and physical intimidation at election time. Once in power the BJP state governments and now the government at the centre have been ruthless in their oppression of minorities and women for economic ends. Hindus combine the assertion of physical violence to gain political power with economic oppression of communities and women. Thus there is state collusion in illegal mining, land grabbing and other Hindu supremacist intimidation against communities for personal and corporate gain. Since 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power with a BJP majority in the Lok Sabha, moderated thankfully by a lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha, it has been very difficult for the law to be enforced on behalf of communities. Adivasis struggling to get the Forest Rights Act are hampered by lack of government support for basic things like bus fares, photocopying costs, support in looking back over past written and oral historical records to prove right to forest, let alone being positively encouraged to get their rights settled by the government. At least 10 to 15 crore people are negatively affected. Considering the Indian state is a secular, socialist Republic that is supposed to have a proactive government operating at three levels to enforce social rights, the obstructive attitude of the Hindu governments at the centre and in the BJP majority states is a serious matter causing the malnutrition and untimely death due to ill health of tens of millions of people. The assertion of vested Hindu interests against Dalits has also been part and parcel of this undermining of the democratic secular functioning of the country. The constitutional rights of the Scheduled Castes have been trampled, though this trend has been going on since independence, as all governments at the centre have been Hindu majority affairs and the secular veneer of the politicians generally masked the class, caste and gender supremacist reality. But under the BJP there has been an intensification of Hindu supremacy through Hindutva, the ideology of India for Hindus, and it has led to an unprecedented collapse of health and welfare of the people, as government budgets are cut, money is diverted for prestige projects, loans are dispersed to the Prime Minister’s favourite multinational corporations without any due diligence by nationalised banks, and much more, all to give Hindus economic cultural and political prestige in the world. Dalit and Adivasi and Muslim students are victimised by Hindu Vice Chancellors, deprived of scholarships or normal advancement, beaten up for doing well at school by Hindu classmates, and much else. Muslim students are ostracised by Hindu student union bosses and Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and Christians are getting beaten up and killed for handling beef. Dalit and Adivasi and Denotified Nomadic and Semi Nomadic tribes women and girls are raped much more than upper class girls, but rape is not at all confined to minority communities. Hindu women and girls are regularly raped too, as indeed are atheists – male violence does not discriminate on grounds of religion. But it was the permissive atmosphere in the courts after Judge Verma declared that Hindutva and Hinduism are not religions that allowed party political violence by the Hindu nationalists to escalate and that unleashed a primitive Hindu fundamentalism in some Hindu men. Hindu nationalism is obscurantist and medieval in the extreme. The list of unscientific dogma being disseminated is long. It comes as no surprise that in the two decades since the Shiv Sena and BJP established their grip on the country India has slipped to rank 97 out of a list of 118 most starving countries. The situation is serious. There was a good reason India chose a secular constitution seventy years ago but its non-observance due to Hindu vested interests made it an unfulfilled promise.
Indians must urgently rededicate themselves to the Republic. The law forbids canvassing for votes by appeal to religion. The reason if it needs to be spelled out is that the democratic secular constitution serves the people better materially. The Hindutva Judgement allowed Hindu nationalism into politics. After the BJP, along with the VHP and Bajrang Dal, was banned after it had orchestrated the violence against Muslims at Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, its fortunes rose again thanks to the Hindutva Judgement of Justice Verma. The decline of the fortunes of the majority of Indians who have been the victims of Hindu nationalism has been dramatic.
The 2014 manifesto of the BJP states:
Ram Mandir: BJP reiterates its stand to explore all possibilities within the framework of the constitution to facilitate the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
Horrified democratic secularists must ask not only how it all came to pass, but as we look forward with intense anticipation to the ban on the BJP and the Shiv Sena we may need to get together the facts to explain in more detail to confused Hindus why the BJP manifesto promise is illegal.
The facts are simple: The Representation of the People Act 1951 outlaws appeals of these kinds:
Under section 123 (3) The appeal by a candidate or his agent or by any other person with the consent of a candidate or his election agent to vote or refrain from voting for any person on the ground of his religion, race, caste, community or language or the use of, or appeal to religious symbols or the use of, or appeal to, national symbols, such as the national flag or the national emblem, for the furtherance of the prospects of the election of that candidate or for prejudicially affecting the election of any candidate: [Provided that no symbol allotted under this Act to a candidate shall be deemed to be a religious symbol or a national symbol for the purposes of this clause.]
Under 123 (3A) The promotion of, or attempt to promote, feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of the citizens of India on grounds of religion, race, caste, community, or language, by a candidate or his agent or any other person with the consent of a candidate or his election agent for the furtherance of the prospects of the election of that candidate or for prejudicially affecting the election of any candidate.]
Under 125 Promoting enmity between classes in connection with election.—Any person who in connection with an election under this Act promotes or attempts to promote on grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language, feelings of enmity or hatred, between different classes of the citizens of India shall be punishable, with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
There is also a similar offense under the Indian Penal Code.
Religion should be separated from political process, the Supreme Court said on 20 October 2016. Political parties are not allowed to ask for votes in the name of religion. One cannot ask for votes in the name of religion and religion should be separated from the political process. Using Hindutva or Hinduism during elections amounts to exploitation of religious sentiments. “Religion should be separated from the political process,” Chief Justice Thakur said. Neither is a person or party allowed to appeal for votes in the name of their own religion or any other religion. Breaking the law leads to candidates being disqualified.
Religion and politics shall not mix. There is a law against it.
The most important outcome of the present review will be the ban on the BJP and the Shiv Sena parties. The court is conducting a review of the scope of enquiry to be conducted when charges of corrupt practices of the kind described above are levelled. The appeal to Hindus in the 2014 manifesto in which the BJP says it will facilitate the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya will certainly be examined as part of the review. It is to be fervently hoped that the BJP will be required to remove the offending item from its manifesto, and be further asked to abjure cooperation with the RSS that aims to establish a “sacred Hindu nation”, and if it does not comply with the requirement under the Act the BJP and the Shiv Sena should be banned. Hindu nationalism is the sole and single most intractable cause of malnutrition and starvation in India today.
More will become known from the Supreme Court on these matters on 25 October.
Anandi Sharan is an environmental historian and writer based at Bangalore. She is a Board member of the global environmental platform CBD Alliance and has been articulating the global South’s concerns on climate change. She can be reached at email@example.com