1. The question which arises for consideration in this appeal by special leave from the judgment of the Bombay High Court is whether respondent No. 1 Dr. D.P. Meshram was entitled to be a candidate for election to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly from constituency No. 190 of Nagpur III, a constituency reserved for candidates from scheduled castes.
2. The appellant and respondents Nos. 1 to 4 were candidates duly nominated for election to the Assembly from the aforesaid constituency. The poll was taken on February 27, 1962, and respondent No. 1 who had polled the highest number of votes was declared elected. The appellant thereupon preferred an election petition before the Election Commission, the main allegations in which were (a) that respondent No. 1 having embraced Buddhism on March 17, 1957, had ceased to be a member of a Scheduled Caste within the meaning of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, and was thus disentitled from being a candidate for the particular seat and (b) that respondent No. 1 was guilty of several corrupt practices. The Tribunal held that the corrupt practices alleged against respondent No, 1 were not established. It, however, came to the conclusion that respondent No, 1 had embraced Buddhism as alleged by the appellant and was, therefore, not eligible for being a candidate for election from the reserved constituency. Upon this ground the Tribunal set aside the election of respondent No. 1. It may be mentioned that the appellant had made a further prayer to the effect that he should be declared elected to the seat; but this prayer was not granted by the Tribunal on the ground that he was not the only other candidate for election and, therefore, it cannot be said how the votes which respondent No. 1 had secured would have been distributed among the remaining candidates. Aggrieved by the decision of the Tribunal respondent No. 1 preferred an appeal before the High Court of Bombay. The only question which was urged before the High Court was regarding the alleged conversion of respondent No. 1 to Buddhism. On that question the High Court reversed the finding of the Tribunal and held that the fact had not been established by evidence. The High Court, therefore, upheld the election of respondent No. 1.
3. [His Lordship then considered the evidence whether respondent No. 1 was converted to Buddhism and held that he was so converted, and proceeded.]
4. What Clause (3) of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 contemplates is that for a person to be treated as one belonging to a Scheduled Caste within the meaning of that Order he must be one who professes either Hindu or Sikh religion. The High Court, following its earlier decision in N.W. Karwadi v. P.H. Shambharkar : AIR1958Bom296 has said that the meaning of the phrase 'professes a religion' in the aforementioned provision is 'to enter publicly into a religious state' and that for this purpose a mere declaration by a person that he has ceased to belong to a particular religion and embraced another religion would not be sufficient. The meanings of the word 'profess' have been given thus in Webster's New World Dictionary: 'to avow publicly; to make an open declaration of;... to declare one's belief in: as, to profess Christ. To accept into a religious order'. The meanings given in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary are more or less the same. It seems to us that the meaning 'to declare one's belief in: as to profess Christ' is one which we have to bear in mind while construing the aforesaid order because it is this which bears upon religious belief and consequently also upon a change in religious belief. It would thus follow that a declaration of one's belief must necessarily mean a declaration in such a way that it would be known to those whom it may interest. Therefore, if a public declaration is made by a person that he has ceased to belong to his old religion and has accepted another religion he will be taken as professing the other religion. In the face of such an open declaration it would be idle to enquire further as to whether the conversion to another religion was efficacious. The word 'profess' in the Presidential Order appears to have been used in the sense of an open declaration or practice by a person of the Hindu (or the Sikh) religion. Where, therefore, a person says, on the contrary, that he has ceased to be a Hindu he cannot derive any benefit from that Order.
5. Finally it is argued that the word Hindu is comprehensive enough to include a Buddhist and in this connection our attention is invited to Explanation II to Clause (2) of Article 25 of the Constitution. Clause (1) of Article 25 recognises, amongst other things, freedom to practise and propagate religion. Sub-clause (5) of Clause (2) runs thus:
Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law-...(b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.
Explanation II reads thus:
In Sub-clause (b) of Clause (2), the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.
The definition of Hindu is expanded for the special purposes of Sub-clause (b) of Clause (2) of Article 25 and for no other. Paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order reads thus:
Notwithstanding anything contained in paragraph 2, no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu or the Sikh religion shall be deemed to be a member of a scheduled caste.
If it was intended that the word 'Hindu' used in this paragraph should have a wide meaning similar to that in Explanation II just quoted there would have been no need to make a mention of the Sikh religion. From the fact that a special mention is made of the Sikh religion it would follow that the word 'Hindu' is used in the narrower sense of the orthodox Hindu religion which recognises castes and contains injunctions based on caste distinctions.
6. For the foregoing reasons we are satisfied that respondent No. 1 had ceased to be a Hindu at the date of his nomination and that consequently he was ineligible to be a candidate for election from a constituency reserved for members of scheduled castes. In the circumstances the Tribunal was right in setting aside his election. Accordingly we allow the appeal, set aside the judgment of the High Court and restore that of the Tribunal. Costs throughout will be borne by respondent No. 1.