Ashwini Kumar Upadhyaya has filed PILs on issues that are on top of his party’s agenda — such as yoga, Vande Mataram and nikah halala.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court’s verdict leaving the task of weeding out criminals from politics to Parliament is being criticised by some experts who think politicians can’t be trusted with cleaning up their own house.
However, not many are aware that the court’s verdict came on a plea filed by a politician belonging to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
The man in question is Ashwini Kumar Upadhyaya, lawyer and spokesperson for the Delhi BJP, who had moved the apex court in 2015 with an NGO, seeking to bar people with criminal antecedents from contesting elections.
On the same day, the top court dismissed another PIL filed by Upadhyaya — that sought to bar sitting MPs and MLAs from practising law.
A serial litigant, Upadhyaya’s political leanings have cast a shadow on his interventions.
For public or party?
For lawyers-turned-politicians, taking up cases that are in conflict with the official party line is often an issue that gives them sleepless nights. Ask Kapil Sibal. But that’s not the case for Upadhyaya, whose legal crusades are mostly inspired by issues identified with his party.
Take for instance, Upadhyaya’s 2016 public interest litigation before the SC to make yoga compulsory in all schools for children between 6 and 14 years of age, or another one to make singing the national anthem and Vande Mataram compulsory in schools. Both cases deal with issues prominent on the BJP’s agenda, and also had the tacit approval of the union government in court. The government filed affidavits in court in support of Upadhyaya’s pleas.
In 2017, he filed a PIL seeking to make Hindi a compulsory language in schools across the country.
But Upadhyaya’s PILs are not just on seemingly ‘soft’ issues. In March, the apex court agreed to examine Muslim personal laws related to polygamy and nikah halala on a petition filed by Upadhyaya, even when the court had earlier refused to look into these issues when Muslim women asked.
“The BJP cannot immediately take up issues on Muslim personal law right after the triple talaq reform. But a good way is to get it done when a party member brings a PIL that matches with your stand,” said Anas Tanwir Siddiqui, a Supreme Court advocate.
Many lawyers who have opposed Upadhyaya’s cases allege that his PILs emanate from the Delhi BJP office on Pandit Pant Marg than his chambers.
Mukul Rohatgi, when he was Attorney General, had argued that PILs filed by Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan seeking relief for drought-affected regions must not be entertained since their organisation Swaraj Abhiyan went from being a non-profit to a political organisation.
Rohatgi had also objected to a petition filed by the CPI(M) against the government for the deaths that took place in the aftermath of demonetisation.
But Upadhyaya’s PILs have never faced the same objections.
Passion for PILs
Upadhyaya says he has a “passion for filing PILs”, and has so far filed 35 such cases in the apex court and another 15 in the Delhi High Court.
He also disagrees with claims that his litigation is mostly political. “I have filed PILs to distribute condoms and contraceptives free of cost to below-poverty-line and economically-backward individuals,” he says.
His most recent PIL has been to link documents of movable and immovable property of citizens with their Aadhaar numbers to check black money and benami transactions. However, this PIL too is in line with the government’s push for using Aadhaar in different sectors.
He says his work is fuelled by one belief: “Nation first, party next and self last.”
But the ‘party’ has not always been the BJP. Upadhyaya was a founding member of the Aam Aadmi Party and was also associated with the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement.
He, however, quit AAP in 2014 and joined the BJP. Within months, he was appointed spokesperson for the Delhi unit.
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