Merely being religious does not mean a person cannot be secular, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday said as it reserved its verdict on a batch of pleas filed by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and his father Parkash Singh Badal challenging summons issued against them in an alleged forgery case.
A bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar asked the counsel appearing for complainant social activist Balwant Singh Khera, the Badals and senior SAD leader Daljit Singh Cheema to file their written submissions in two days.
The Badals and Cheema have moved the top court challenging the August, 2021 order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court refusing to quash the summons against them by additional chief judicial magistrate, Hoshiarpur in a private complaint filed by Khera on the charges of forgery, cheating and concealing facts.
Khera had filed a complaint in 2009 alleging that the SAD has two constitutions- one that it submitted to the Gurdwara Election Commission for registration as a party to manage gurdwaras and the other to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to seek recognition as a political party. He contended it amounted to cheating.
During the hearing that lasted nearly two hours and a half, the bench observed, “Merely being a religious person does not mean that you cannot be a secular person.”
Senior advocate KV Viswanathan, appearing for Parkash Singh Badal, said a person can be religious and secular at the same time.
“You respect your right of being religious but you can also respect other people’s right to be religious. I can be religious and secular at the same time. How can this be a case of forgery and cheating? The SAD got registered with Gurdwara Election Commission for management of gurdwaras where its constitution said only Sikhs will be its member and in the Election Commission a memorandum was submitted undertaking to abide by the Constitution and its Preamble,” he submitted.
Viswanathan said Parkash Singh Badal was not even arrayed as an accused and amendment applications filed by the complainant were dismissed twice by the trial court.
“The high court refused to quash the summons and said that all these issues can be raised during trial,” he said, adding the opposite party had gone to the Election Commission seeking deregistration of the SAD.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Khera, said it has come on record from the testimony of complainant witness Manjit Singh that an undertaking was given before the Election Commission that the SAD professes allegiance to the Constitution and the Preamble and the party will amend its old constitution.
“It was recorded in the testimony that undertaking was given at the behest of Parkash Singh Badal but the SAD’s constitution is same as the old constitution submitted to the Gurdwara Election Commission where it was said only adult Sikhs and Sikhni would be party members,” Bhushan said.
He alleged the party gave a “fabricated” undertaking to the EC based on which the poll panel registered the SAD as political party.
“You (SAD) cannot be religious and secular at the same time. It has to be either and not both. The amendments in the party’s constitution were never made. Is this not forgery? Election Commission was deceived and believed their undertaking,” Bhushan said.
He added for gurdwara elections SAD has to be a religious party and for contesting assembly and general elections, the political party has to be secular and profess allegiance to the Constitution.
The bench, however, said the SAD did not forge a document like its constitution before the EC by manipulating or fabricating the original document.
“They have not produced any other document which is not their constitution. They have not manipulated the records but instead submitted an undertaking that they would amend the constitution. Now, can this be a case of forgery or cheating?” the bench said.
The top court said it will not go into the larger question of whether it is a secular or religious party and limit its reasoning to the issuance of summons by the trial court over alleged forgery and whether such offences are prima facie made out or not.
Bhushan said if the Election Commission was deceived into registering SAD as political party on the basis of a false undertaking, then it amounts to forgery.
The bench said it will pass orders on the pleas.
On November 1, 2023, the top court had stayed the proceedings before a trial court against the Badals and Cheema in the case pertaining to alleged submission of a “false” undertaking to seek EC recognition.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court had on August 27, 2021 dismissed the plea filed by the Badals and Cheema against an order of the additional chief judicial magistrate, Hoshiarpur who had summoned them in the case.
Khera had alleged the SAD had given a “false” undertaking to the EC that it had amended its constitution to incorporate the principles of socialism and secularism, whereas it continued its activities as a “Panthic” party and participated in the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) elections.