That India is a secular state, only, in theory, has come to the fore with a father-son duo challenging Indira Gandhi’s 42nd amendment to the Constitution in 1977 which introduced the two words, “secular” and “socialist” in the preamble of the Constitution. It is unlikely the Supreme Court will strike down the 42nd amendment which gave Parliament unbridled powers to amend the Constitution despite the Kesavananda Bharati case of 1970 which curtailed its powers. So, thankfully, India will retain its status of a democracy – though only in name.
But the effort put in by the father-son duo of Hari Shankar Jain and his son, Vishnu Shankar Jain, to ensure India officially becomes a Hindu majoritarian state is commendable. They have filed 110 cases across the country seeking worshipping rights for the Hindus or representing Hindu deities as their next friend-in-court. Interestingly, this father-son duo argued that the Ram Lalla idol was “hungry” before the district court. An argument that allegedly found favour with the court.
As in Hindu scriptures, Hari and Vishnu are an integral part of all Hindu legal battles from the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi to the Idgah in Mathura and the Qutub Minar in Delhi to the specious contention alleging there were Hindu idols in the locked rooms of the Taj Mahal in Agra. Like their divine namesakes, this father-son duo supplement and complement each other inside and outside the court by dexterously handling the media and judges’ questions in the court.
Never mind the guarantee of Article 25 of the Constitution which ensures only public health order and morality can restrict the people’s right to profess, propagate and practice any religion of their choice. For in a Hindu majoritarian state, the minorities’ rights to profess or propagate their religion have been abridged by the Anti-Conversion laws under which there have been prosecutions with few convictions.
Hari and Vishnu have apparently made good use of the proviso to Article 25 that provides for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all Hindus irrespective of caste or colour. This is why Vinayak Savarkar has replaced Mahatma Gandhi as the nation’s new icon. Apparently, Savarkar opposed caste, unlike Mahatma who rationalised that it had its place in Indian polity.
Advocate Hari Shankar Jain’s profile appears on the official website of the Sanatan Sanstha with its headquarters at Ponda in Goa. Its avowed aim as declared on the website is that all ills which plague the country can be removed through the blessings of saints but not through the ballot. This is why India should be declared a Hindu country – an aim which Jain has pursued doggedly by seeking to remove the words “secular” and “socialist” from the preamble.
For the uninitiated, the Karnataka SIT charge-sheeted alleged members of the Sanatan Sanstha for allegedly killing journalist Gauri Lankesh. The Sanatan Sanstha was allegedly implicated in the murders of journalist Gauri Lankesh and rationalists M.M. Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar, and Govind Pansare.
This father-son duo have relentlessly fought battles for the Hindus’ right to worship in disputed places of worship right from the Babri Masjid dispute to the Gyanvapi mosque by doing research, compiling the vital documents, and drafting all of these into petitions which have been filed in the district court, the Allahabad High Court and right up to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court was forced to adjourn the hearing of the Gyanvapi dispute on May 17 because the elder Jain was unwell, according to his son. It was surprising that a battery of senior advocates like Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, Ranjit Kumar, and C.S. Vaidyanathan who were present in court could not proceed without Hari Shankar Jain, who alone apparently had the full case file.
The solicitor general represents the government and is supposed to have all the details of the case at his fingertips because he is assisted by research assistants. But shockingly, the solicitor general Tushar Mehta did not object when the apex court granted the adjournment proving that Hari and Vishnu do indeed permeate the universe which includes justice dispensation.
Hari Shankar Jain’s son, Vishnu Jain, is an advocate-on-record (AoR) in the Supreme Court. For the uninitiated, cases are filed in the Supreme Court only through an Advocate on Record (AoR) who has to score 60 per cent marks on the aggregate in four tough papers set by senior advocates and evaluated by them under the supervision of three apex court judges.
Hari Shankar Jain started legal practice in 1976 in Lucknow and then shifted to New Delhi where he was noticed in 1993 after procuring an order from the Allahabad High Court to open the door of the Babri Masjid so that Hindus could worship there. This was the turning point of his legal career because just after the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, Hindus were restricted from worshipping there.
The fact that law mixed with politics and religion makes a heady cocktail was proved when Hari Shankar Jain challenged the election of Sonia Gandhi from the Amethi constituency in 1999 after losing to her. The Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the petition because it lacked precise allegations which were necessary to show how Sonia Gandhi’s election as an MP from Amethi was void. What makes it fascinating to read is that Hari Shankar Jain sought to draw a distinction between a citizen of India and an Indian citizen.
He alleged that Sonia Gandhi’s (born as Antonia Maino in Italy) marriage to the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was null and void which resulted in the fact that she could not be a citizen of India as she had not renounced Italian citizenship. This contention was dismissed by the Supreme Court which is why Sonia Gandhi continues to sit in Parliament.
Whether Hari and Vishnu will succeed in their bid to remove the words “secular” and “socialist” from the preamble of the Constitution will prove to the world how secular we are in practice.
(Olav Albuquerque holds a Ph.D in law and is a senior journalist-cum-advocate of the Bombay High Court)