Minister Hegde Apologises Under Pressure: 'I Respect the Constitution and Believe It Is Supreme'
Citizens write to President, Minister should apologise or resign
NEW DELHI: "My comment was misunderstood. I respect the constitution and believe that it is supreme. If, however, my statement has hurt anyone's sentiment, I have no problems in apologising for it," Union Minister Hegde said in the Lok Sabha after the pressure on him to resign built up both within and outside Parliament.
On Wednesday both Houses of Parliament were adjourned several times over Hegde’s anti-Constitution remarks. He had said, “ "Some people say the Constitution says secular and you must accept it. We will respect the Constitution, but the Constitution has changed several times and it will change in the future too. We are here to change the Constitution and we'll change it."
The government distanced itself from these remarks but this did not placate the Opposition that continued to demand his resignation, or an apology in the House.
Several prominent citizens aslo wrote a letter to President of India, Ram Nath Kovind drawing his attention to the remarks made by Union Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Anant Kumar Hegde against the Constitution of India. Urging the President to ensure an apology or dismissal of Hegde from the Council of Ministers, the citizens have pointed out that the Minister “is threatening the very fundamentals of Indian democracy.” And “not only violated the Constitutional provisions by misusing his office, he has also attacked personal life and dignity of those individuals who choose not to be recognized by their religious/ sectarian affiliation.”
The full letter reads:
President of India
Dear Shri RamNath Kovind Ji
We would like to draw your attention, in yet another appalling low the BJP Union Minister for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Mr. Anant Kumar Hegde has attacked the secular nature of Indian constitution. Addressing a function in Karnataka he urged people to “claim with pride that they are Muslim, Christian, Lingayat, Brahmin, or a Hindu," adding, "Those who, without knowing about their parental blood, call themselves secular, they don't have their own identity...They don't know about their parentage, but they are intellectuals."
He also said, "Some people say the Constitution says secular and you must accept it. We will respect the Constitution, but the Constitution has changed several times and it will change in the future too. We are here to change the Constitution and we'll change it."
In making such a statement the Union Minister not only attacked the provisions enshrined under the Fundamental Rights to equality and to freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution, he also brazenly violated the oath he took as member of Parliament and as Union Minister. Before taking his or her seat in the House every member is required under article 99 of the Constitution to make and subscribe an oath or affirmation in the following form: —
"I, A.B., having been elected (or nominated) a member of the House of the People do swear in the name of God / solemnly affirm that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India and that I will faithfully discharge the duty upon which I am about to enter." Similarly, upon entering the office as a Union Minister, the ministers take a similar oath as provided in Schedule VI of the Constitution which requires that he/ she “will do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law, without fear or favor, affection or ill-will.”
We the undersigned concerned citizens of the country condemn this brazen violation of the Constitutional provisions which constitute the edifice of Indian democracy. Indian secularism, as provided in the Constitution is based on the principle of equality of all religions before the state. By threatening to change the constitutional provision of secularism, the Union Minister has misused his office, violated the oath of office and his actions are unbecoming of a democratically elected person.
Such a statement is not merely irresponsible, but it driven by an ill-will to change the basic structure of the Constitution- a feature that was recognized and upheld by the Apex Court in the Kesavananda Bharti case in 1973. The Preamble to the Constitution vests the sovereignty of the Constitution in the people of India. In claiming to change the Constitution in order to remove its secular features, the Union Minister is threatening the very fundamentals of Indian democracy which is a matter of grave concern to all citizens of this country. The Union Minister has not only violated the Constitutional provisions by misusing his office, he has also attacked personal life and dignity of those individuals who choose not to be recognized by their religious/ sectarian affiliation.
By questioning the parentage of fellow citizens, the minister is guilty of violating their fundamental right to freedom as enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution. This also violates the fundamental right to life and personal liberty under Article 21. The Apex Court through various judgements has upheld that right to life involves right to live with dignity.
We demand the immediate resignation of the Minister and an apology to the citizens. If not acted upon, this will set a dangerous precedent in the times to come and will threaten the very social and political fabric of Indian society which is the basis of Indian Parliamentary democracy. We appeal to the Hon’ble President of India to see that no member of Parliament misuses his/ her office for any purpose driven by an ill-will to change the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. We also appeal that MPs and ministers uphold the oath that they take under the Constitutional provisions upon entering public office.
The signatories include Prof Jayati Ghosh, Prof Zoya Hasan, Gauhar Raza, Sehba Farooqi, Sonal Singh, Shabnam Hashmi and others.