Recently, a few MLAs from Karnataka were inducted into the State cabinet. When they took their oaths, they invoked the name of specific gods like Gaumata, Seva Lal, Vijaynagara Virupaksha and Bhuvaneshwari. This created a bit of controversy and was criticised for being against the spirit of the Constitution.
The Constitution’s Third Schedule gives Ministers, MPs, Judges and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India the option to either swear in ‘the name of God’ or ‘solemnly affirm.’ One mentions 'God', the other does not. The question of including 'God' in oaths came up in two debates in the Constituent Assembly.
The first was around Article 60 (Oath or Affirmation by the President). HV Kamath wanted to explicitly mention 'God' in the oath. He was concerned with the lack of invocation of the ‘grace and blessing of God’ in the Constitution and added that the Constitution was sacred and must be offered to 'God'. BR Ambedkar accepted the inclusion of 'God' but not necessarily Kamath’s rationale. Ambedkar argued that the President must have the liberty to swear in the name of 'God’ if they so wished – indicating that for Ambedkar this question was more about individual choice. Further, Ambedkar added that this would not alter the ‘secular’ nature of the State. There was wide support in favour of including God and the Assembly accepted the proposal.
HV Kamath, Image Credit: Economic Times
The second debate was around the Third Schedule. Ambedkar moved an amendment to add the words ‘in the name of God’ to all the oaths, probably because he wanted to maintain consistency: if one constitutional provision relating to oaths allowed for the mention of 'God', then all should. Kamath moved an amendment too, very similar to Ambedkar’s. This time though, there were members who offered resistance.
Sardar Bhopinder Singh Man was against the inclusion of God and said that God might not want to be associated with the Constitution. Brajeshwar Prasad too voiced his concerns: he felt that one could believe in 'God' without swearing in 'God’s' name while taking up office. When put to vote, Kamath’s amendment was accepted by the Assembly.
The Assembly appeared to be fine with proposals to include 'God' in the oaths. But it plausibly would not have agreed to members invoking specific gods. This was confirmed by the Supreme Court in Umesh Challiyil v. KP Rajendran. The Court ruled that oath should be either taken in the name of ‘God’ or ‘solemnly affirmed’. The words in the Constitution must strictly be complied with and the word ‘God’ cannot be replaced with the names of any 'god-men'.