New Delhi: " 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 Bhagvad Gita".
This is not a chorus by any Saffron brigade, but the pronouncement of a judge of the Allahabad High Court .
Justice S N Srivastava made this observation on August 30, while hearing a case filed by Shyamal Ranjan Mukherji, a priest at the Gopal Thakur Mandir in Varanasi.
Says Allahabad High Court lawyer, Krishna Shukla, "The Bhagavad Gita was an inspiration to all who took part in the struggle for India's independence and the preachings in the holy book are for the common man, and not for any particular caste or creed."
The saffron brigade however insists that the judgement has nothing to do with the judge's religion.
Says member Vishwa Hindu Parishad, B P Singhal, "He has justice in his mind, not as a Hindu, but as a judge."
However if one looks back at the track record of S N Srivastava , there are other controversies as well
On April 5 this year, he had ruled that Muslims were not a minority group in Uttar Pradesh. The order was, however, stayed the very next day by a division bench of the High Court.
His ode to dharma came at the very end of his career, just five days before retirement.
Says columnist Saeed Naqvi, "The Bhagvad Gita is a part of India's culture but they are trying to make it a religious text."
In the words of the judge, if we can have a national bird, we might as well have a national holy book too. But then, are such sweeping statements appropriate for a custodian of the law, in a secular republic?
CONDEMNING THE STATEMENT
Senior lawyers and judges have come out strongly against the sweeping statement made by Justice S N Srivastava.
"Judges may have personal views on various issues, but personal predilictions have to be kept out and only what is relevent for the case need to be taken into account. The question is even if it is relevent, the judges ought to realise it is a secular repupblic. Matters of policy and religious affairs given to the Constitutional minorities have to be kept in view," senior lawyer, KTS Tulsi told CNN-IBN over the phone.
"I worship the Bhagvad Gita. Gita is my faith, but it's my individual faith. The state has no religion in this secular country. Religion is our personal view. A judge's job is to decide. He takes a Constitutional oath in accordance with the law. This is a personal view that is being imposed upon people in a judgement," added former chief justice of India, V N Khare.
(With inputs from Abhishek Patni in Lucknow)