Supreme Court: Take oath in any God’s name
Venkatesan R. Iyengar
17 November 2007, Saturday
The Supreme Court has ruled that a member of the legislative assembly can take oath of office in any God’s name. But this may open a Pandora’s box, with God-specific oaths becoming popular. It will go against the grain of our secular constitution.
CAN A MEMBER OF the Legislative Assembly of a state take oath of office in any God’s name? Yes, says the Supreme Court of India. Dismissing a petition filed by a member of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, challenging the legality and validity of 11 Indian Union Muslim League MLAs of Kerala taking oath in the name of Allah, the Supreme Court has ruled that God, called by any other name, means the same. The Bench comprised of Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and Justice RV Raveendran is reported to have asked, “Allah is an Arabic word for God; so what is the problem?”
This ruling by the apex court implies that MLAs, MPs, ministers at state level, members of the judiciary, union ministers, Prime Minister and the President can take oath in the name of a God of their choice. Also, the ruling is sure to open a Pandora’s box.
In a country like India, where creeds and Gods are as numerous and diverse as the people themselves and where politicians do not mind playing the religious card to get votes, oaths henceforth might range from “I, A.B., do swear in the name of Sri Rama.. Sri Krishna.. Lord Shiva.. Lord Muruga.. Lord Ayyappa.. Goddess Lakshmi.. Goddess Durga.. the Buddha.. Bhagwan Mahaveera.. Ahura Mazda.. Jesus Christ.. Allah.. Sai Baba.. and what not”. There is bound to be pressure on other secular politicians as well to ‘display’ their loyalty to their religion while taking oath and during affirmation.
In other words, this ruling goes against the secular principles of our constitution. The English word “God”, through centuries of usage, has gained universality and a secular complexion, whereas the same cannot be said of words such as “Sri Rama” or “Jesus Christ” or “Allah”, which have strong religious connotations.
Already a petition against a Kerala MLA who took oath in the name of Sri Narayana Guru is pending before the court. What will the judiciary say in this case? Will it rule that Sri Narayana Guru is a man and not God? If it does so, it will end up opening yet another Pandora’s box!