Unwelcome Interference (SEPTEMBER 12, 2007)
Over the last couple of days we have been witness to some unpleasant and unnecessary acts from supposedly responsible quarters. The most bothersome was an uncalled for observation by a judge of the Allahabad High Court that the Gita should be declared the national scripture on the lines of the national flag, national song and national bird.
The learned Justice Srivastava, who delivered this gem of judicial wisdom, has made similarly amazing observations in the past as well, the most memorable being that "Muslims are not a minority in Uttar Pradesh." We all know how seriously that remark was taken.
Justice Srivastav is due to retire soon and has tried to give us a parting gift that we may not readily accept. His argument for making the Gita India’s national scripture: This holy book inspired freedom fighters to win the country’s independence from British raj. That is a fact.
But the other fact is that as Gandhiji and Sardar Patel drew inspiration from the Gita Maulana Azad and Dr Ansari drew inspiration from the Quran. What was true of Gandhiji was true of nearly all Hindu leaders and activists, and almost all Muslim leaders and activists drew inspiration from the Quran like Azad did. Likewise, Sikhs drew inspiration from the Guru Granth Sahib and Christians from the Bible. Thus the Gita was not the sole source of inspiration for freedom fighters.
It is obvious that such prescriptions are patently unfair to the excluded. In this case the excluded are Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jews, tribals and Dalits (most of whom worship local, non-Vedic deities). And, of course, the growing number of agnostics and atheists who don’t profess belief in any scripture. Naturally, Justice Srivastav’s prescription has been assailed as unfair. If the Gita is declared the national scripture half of India will automatically become anti-national.
It is heartening to note that some of the best legal minds in the country have publicly rejected Justice Srivastav’s comments as unconstitutional. They have rightly observed that the learned judge’s remarks amount to subverting India’s secular Constitution that privileges no scripture over any other scripture, no religion over any other religion. This country does not have a state religion and smuggling in a preferred faith disguised as nationalism is the last thing we expect from our judiciary.