New Delhi: “As far as India is concerned, I would like to say Christian groups are more dangerous than Islamic groups. Both are equally dangerous in the context of conversion, especially Love Jihad.”
“The problem of Christian (sic). If the Islamic terror (sic) is green terror, the Christian terror is white terror.”
“Bharatanatyam should not be danced for (sic) Christian songs. How could the posture of Lord Nataraja be equated (sic) with the name of Jesus Christ?”
“The slow, steady and consistent invasion of our values and morals in this country by the continuous rule of pseudo-secularists in the name of secularism, in the name of globalization, in the name of global marketing, has made the constitutional promise of equality, a farce.”
“The list of Christian aggression is not ending. ‘Where there is a temple, there must be many Churches’ (sic) is their aggressive motto.”
These are some of the views expressed in 2012, 2013, and 2018 by an advocate and serving Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, who on 17 January 2023 was recommended by a three-judge Supreme Court committee knowns as the collegium for appointment as a judge to the Madras High Court.
If her appointment is cleared by the union government, advocate Lekshmana Chandra Victoria Gowri, 49, will serve as a high court judge for 13 years. She would also be eligible for elevation to the Supreme Court.
Article 14 sought comment from Gowri for her views about Christianity and Islam and if she still stood by them.
“In view of my recommendation, I have been advised not to give any interviews,” said Gowri. “Sorry.”
Gowri's biases have emerged at a time when the collegium revealed on 19 January 2023 that the government had returned three high-court appointments—of Saurabh Kirpal, John Sathyan and Somasekhar Sundaresan.
Govt & Collegium Consider Political Leanings
The collegium, previously criticised (here, here, here and here) for its opaque system of picking candidates for the higher judiciary, for the first time on 19 January 2023 made public its reasons for reiterating the candidature of Kirpal, whose candidature the government rejected because he was gay and had a Swiss partner.
Law Minister Rijiju, who has also previously accused the collegium of opacity and unaccountability, criticised its revelations of intelligence inputs about Kirpal and others as “a very serious matter” and said he would “react to this in an appropriate manner in time”.
Recent collegium records have revealed that both the government and the collegium consider political leanings and past history while considering a person’s candidature.
In the case of Sathyan who was recommended for Madras High Court judgeship on 16 February 2022, a government Intelligence Bureau report objected to two social media posts that were “critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi”.
In one of the posts, said the IB report, Sathyan had shared an article published in The Quint. The second post he shared was about a medical aspirant, Anitha, who died by suicide after failing a national pre-medical entrance test, in 2017. The IB said the post referred to a “killing by political betrayal” and had a tag that said “shame of (sic) you India”.
In the case of Sundaresan recommended for judgeship at the Bombay High Court, the government objected to his candidacy on the ground that he was a “highly biased opinionated person” and that he had been “selectively critical on social media on the important policies, initiatives and directions of the Government”.
The government noted that Sundaresan has aired his views on social media on several matters which are under consideration before the courts.
In Sundaresan’s case, the collegium said there is “no material to indicate that the expressions used by the candidate are suggestive of his links with any political party with strong ideological leanings”—something that is apparent in Gowri’s case.
As the recommendation for Gowri revealed, the reform of the collegium is a work in progress. No reasons were given that explained how an advocate with obvious bias against India’s minorities had been approved as a high court candidate.
The Question Of Bias
The government’s contradictory approach towards the appointment of judges has invited criticism.
“It raises the question of suitability of some candidates based on some posts critical of government policy, but ignores the fact that lawyers with strong political affiliation to the ruling party also make it to the bench without any impediment,” said an editorial in The Hindu on 26 January 2023.
Indeed, many Supreme Court and high court judges have displayed a bias towards the government, ruling party and its ideology, with some even praising Modi.
For instance, Supreme Court Justice M R Shah in February 2021 called the prime minister the “most popular, loved, vibrant and visionary leader”; in 2018 as chief justice of the Patna High Court, Justice Shah had called Modi “model and a hero”.
Former Supreme Court Justice Arun Mishra in February 2020 called Modi “a versatile genius who thinks globally and acts locally”.
Other judges have expressed biases towards the ruling party and its ideology. In January 2018, former Supreme Court Justice K T Thomas said that after the Constitution, democracy and the armed forces, it was the RSS, the BJP’s ideological parent, that kept India safe.
There have been other instances of bias, calling into question the operation of the Collegium, which the government has recently criticised, although for different reasons, asking, as Kiren Rijiju did on its behalf on 17 October 2022, if there was any other country in which judges appointed judges.
Gowri is not the first lawyer close to the BJP to be appointed to the higher judiciary by the collegium, as the January 2023 appointment of Bombay High Court justice Neela Gokhale indicated.
Representing politicians is no disqualification from being a judge—former Supreme Court Chief Justice U U Lalit had represented home minister Amit Shah—but questions of impartiality arise when they display obvious bias.
It now appears that the government, despite getting judges who favour it in higher courts, wants a greater say in their appointment.
The Embattled Collegium
Headed by the Chief Justice of India, the Supreme Court collegium comprises four other of its senior-most judges. It decides elevations, appointments to the higher judiciary and transfer of judges.
The collegium system finds no mention in the Constitution of India and is a system evolved through Supreme Court judgements.
Appointment of judges to high courts is recommended by an abridged version of the collegium comprising the Chief Justice and two of the senior-most judges, currently Justice S K Kaul and Justice K M Joseph.
Candidates to a high court are first proposed by its chief justice, who leads a three-member collegium with judges of that high court. After adding comments of the state government and the governor, the high court collegium sends the list to the central government, which vets the list and forwards it to the Supreme Court collegium with its comments.
The Supreme Court collegium’s decision is sent to the union government, which can either process their appointments or send back a name, seeking clarifications or adding objections.
The collegium then reconsiders each case. It may drop a name, but if it reiterates a name, the government has to clear it—at least in theory.
“Till the collegium system is there, we have to enforce it,” a three-judge Supreme Court bench said on 9 December 2022. “You can bring law (sic) to replace the system… but till then you have to follow the law.”
“There is no other passage provided for the government,” said the Supreme Court. “When names are reiterated, the government has to appoint.”
About 23 names were kept pending by the union government despite a reiteration in January 2022. Some were returned the second or third time, drawing criticism from collegium judges.
When a candidate’s name is cleared by the collegium and the government, the President's office then issues a “warrant of appointment”.
Government Vs Judiciary
The collegium’s recommendation for appointment of Gowri, who has overt political leanings and ideology, comes at a time when the government and the Supreme Court have clashed over judicial appointments.
On 22 January 2023, union law minister Kiren Rijiju endorsed a former high court judge’s view that the Supreme Court has “hijacked” the Constitution by deciding to appoint judges.
The confrontation has grown over the past few months, with Rijiju calling the collegium system “alien”, “opaque”, and “unaccountable”. He has also said, in reference to the Supreme Court, that “the people are watching you and judging you” and that “nothing is hidden in the age of social media”.
“Issue of higher judiciary vacancies will keep cropping up till the process to appoint judges is changed”, Rijiju said in Parliament’s upper house, the Rajya Sabha on 15 December 2022.
The Supreme Court judges have expressed their displeasure over such comments and on 28 November 2022 asked the attorney general of India R Venkataramani to “resolve the matter”.
One who spoke to this reporter on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue said he was “puzzled” why the union government was criticising the collegium, “even though the collegium has ceded ground to the executive a long time ago”.
“I can only say this much—there is hard bargaining between the government and collegium at one level, and amongst the judges themselves at one level,” said Sanjoy Ghose, a senior Delhi High Court advocate whom the Delhi High Court collegium unsuccessfully recommended in 2017 for appointment as a judge. “This has worked for them.”
“I would think that after the striking down (in 2015) of the National Judicial Appointments Commission, the government's deep and pervasive role in judicial appointments has increased,” said Ghose. “Nothing will change, sadly.”
‘Chowkidar Victoria Gowri’— BJP Member, Modi Fan
Gowri has not been shy about her affiliation with the BJP and her admiration of the Prime Minister.
Her Twitter handle, since deleted, described her as “Chowkidar Victoria Gowri”, which refers to BJP’s “Main bhi chowkidar” or “I am a security guard [for the nation]” campaign for the 2019 general election.
Gowri’s first known association with the BJP was when she was appointed state in-charge of the party’s Kerala Mahila Morcha or women’s movement on 8 October 2010. The Mahila Morcha was then headed by Smriti Irani, now the union minister for Women and Child Development.
Gowri campaigned for the BJP in the run-up to the 2014 general election in Tamil Nadu, a state where it has never made significant political headway.
After the BJP won general elections in May 2014, Gowri was appointed as the union government’s senior standing counsel at the Madras High Court’s Madurai Bench in 2015.
Gowri is considered close to additional solicitor general of India K M Nataraj, who was appointed the additional solicitor general for the southern region by the union government in April 2015, the year Gowri was appointed.
Nataraj has been affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and is “a key figure in getting right-wing ideology persons” appointed as judges in southern high courts, according to a Supreme Court lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity. Nataraj also served as the additional advocate general of Karnataka from 2009 to 2013 under the then BJP state government.
These concerns were also echoed by former Supreme Court Justice Madan B Lokur who said in a January 2023 interview that “it's quite clear they (union government) want persons who are aligned with their kind of views”.
In 2017 the appointments committee of the union cabinet, headed by Modi, appointed Gowri as an independent director at Kamarajar Port Limited in Chennai and in 2020 elevated her from senior standing counsel to assistant solicitor general of India for the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court.
By now, her biases against minorities were evident.
‘Christianity Is More Dangerous, Like Islam As Well’
Video interviews (here and here) in Feb 2018 and June 2018 with Gowri and two articles (here and here) she wrote in 2012 and 2013 in the Organiser, affiliated with the RSS, and a Hindu right-wing e-magazine Bharat Marg.
Gowri has described Christianity as a “threat to India’s national security and peace”, and alleged that India’s art and culture were being “hacked to death” by the activities of Roman Catholics.
In a 2018 video titled “Cultural genocide by Christian Missionaries in Bharat—Victoria Gowri”, Gowri narrates her personal experience while attending a Bharatanatyam event hosted by a Christian organisation.
“I was so shocked… we found it very awkward and ugly especially when the children danced the poses of Lord Nataraja to mean Jesus Christ,” said Gowri. “What is the connection between Jesus Christ and Lord Nataraja?”
She went on to give examples of how kirtans, a musical form of spiritual or religious poems, were being “copied by Christians” to make Christian songs, calling it a conspiracy “hatched in nexus with the leftist and DK people”. It is unclear what she meant by the acronym “DK”.
“This is the most nefarious activity of the roman catholic sect of Christianity,” said Gowri. “They have established a special group within themselves to take care of this area, especially art and culture. In the name of Dravidian literature, the Left ideology was brought in and later it gave room for conversion.”
In another 2018 video titled “More Threat to National Security & Peace? Jihad or Christian Missionary? Answers Victoria Gowri”, Gowri accuses Christianity and Islam of being “dangerous”.
“Christians have a meticulous, well-planned, educated way of alluring people in the name of peace, in the name of service, in the name of love”, she said, referring to conversion. “As far as India is concerned, I would like to say Christian groups are more dangerous than Islamic groups”.
Replying to a question by the interviewer on which religion posed a greater danger to “national security”, she alleged that in her home district of Kanyakumari Christians had become the majority.
“In Kanyakumari district, they are already majorities,” Gowri said. “Take northeast. What is the problem going on there? The problem of Christians.”.
“So Christianity is more dangerous, like Islam as well”, Gowri said.
Love Jihad & PseudoSecularists
Gowri also shared her views on “love jihad”, a conspiracy theory alleging that Muslims conspire to convert Hindu women to Islam by marrying them.
“Both (Christian groups and Islamic groups) are equally dangerous in the context of conversion, especially Love Jihad,” Gowri said. “I don't mind a Hindu girl marrying a Muslim boy, unless and until they are in love with each other, living a life in a kind of (sic) understanding and love. But if I am not able to find my girl with him as his wife, and if I find my girl in the Syrian terrorist camp, I have objection (sic) and that is what I define as Love Jihad.”
In a 2012 opinion piece in the Organiser, “Aggressive baptising destroying social harmony”, Gowri expanded on her views about Christianity.
“Christian sectarianism and bigotry indulging in organised alluring conversions continuously has shrunk the majority Hindus to minorities (in Kanyakumari),” Gowri wrote.
“The list of Christian aggression is not ending. ‘Where there is a temple, there must be many Churches’ is their aggressive motto,” wrote Gowri.
In a 2013 opinion piece titled “Protect women for national harmony”, Gowri wrote about the need to protect women in the wake of the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case and blamed “pseudo-secularists” for the inequality between men and women.
“The slow, steady and consistent invasion of our values and morals in this country by the continuous rule of pseudo-secularists in the name of secularism, in the name of globalization, in the name of global marketing, has made the constitutional promise of equality, a farce”, wrote Gowri.
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(Saurav Das is an independent investigative journalist and transparency activist.)