The Allahabad High Court's observations that every citizen, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, should follow the dharma propounded by the Bhagvad Gita evoked strong reactions from legal experts who said it was an abuse of constitutional powers by a judge.
A day after the observations made by Justice SN Srivastava, who had created a storm by ruling that Muslims were not a minority in Uttar Pradesh, during the hearing of a petition filed by a Varanasi temple priest over a property dispute, the government on Tuesday tried to downplay the matter.
The judge said the Bhagvad Gita had inspired people during the freedom struggle. "Hence, it is the duty of every citizen of India under Article 51-A of the Constitution of India, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, to follow dharma as propounded by the Gita," the judge said on Monday.
Reacting to the observations, Union Law Minister HR Bhardwaj said scriptures of all religions should be respected. "For Muslims, it is the Quran and for Christians it is the Bible. Every religion has its own 'dharma shastra'. How can we say it (the Gita) is for the entire nation?" he asked.
"We have to respect the scriptures of other religions. Therefore, the observation ought be ignored. No judge can think that there should be no freedom of religion or conscience," he added.
Former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan termed Justice Srivastava's observation as "absurd". "It is totally contrary to the secular Constitution of the country… it is totally beyond jurisdiction…why should a judge make this kind of an observation?," he said.
Senior counsel P N Lekhi echoed similar sentiments. "It is not worth commenting. Don't take judges seriously. Just be balanced."
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan said: "The case before the judge related to a religious endowment. There was no occasion whatsoever for him to make such a comment. These comments are subversive of the Constitution and wholly uncalled for in a secular state that respects the principles of all religions. In fact, this is an extra constitutional comment, which is divisive in nature and has no connection with the case."
Former Chief Justice of India V N Khare also pointed out the unconstitutional nature of the remark. "It's a personal view, which you (the judge) cannot impose in a judgment. What he (the judge) says is not constitutional."
Muslim Personal Law Board member Maulana Khalid Rashid said, "We and our religious leaders are shocked at this constitutional expert's judgment.''
Media personality Sayeed Naqvi said, "Bhagvad Gita is a part of our culture and they are trying to make it a religious text."
BJP leader VP Singhal, however, came out in support of Justice Srivastava and said his remarks were "not made as a Hindu but as a judge, he had justice in his mind".
(With PTI inputs)