New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Gujarat government to explain why it banned expelled BJP leader Jaswant Singh's book Jinnah - India, Partition and Independence in the state.
A bench of Justice Altmas Kabir and Justice Cyriac Joseph issued a notice to the Gujarat government on a lawsuit of Singh, challenging the state's August 19 order banning the book in the state.
The bench decided to accord an urgent hearing to the lawsuit and advanced the date for its hearing from September 11 to September 8. The notice was accepted by Gujarat government counsel Hemantika Wahi, who was present in the courtroom.
Appearing for Singh, senior counsel Fail S Nariman pointed out to the court that the state government's decision to ban the book violated his client's fundamental right to speech and expression, guaranteed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
Contending that the government has banned the book only a day after it was released, Nariman said the state authorities did not even read it before banning it.
They cannot even point out the part of the book that they have found to be offending, said Nariman and demanded outright suspension of the order.
But the bench did not think it proper to suspend the order without hearing the state government, and asked it to have its say on the issue.
The Gujarat government, through an official notification on August 19, banned the sale and distribution of the book in the state on the ground that "contents of the book are highly objectionable."
The state government also said that "it is of the opinion that the contents of the book are misleading and against the tranquility in society and interest of the state".
Singh in his lawsuit, filed through law firm Karanjawala and Company, has contended that "the Gujarat government's notification banning his book was a hasty and arbitrary one."
Singh, who held finance, defence and external affairs portfolios in the BJP-led governments, has contended that though the Narendra Modi government accused his book of being detrimental to the tranquility of society and interest of the state, the government did not even identify the relevant portion of the book which it wants to call "detrimental to the society".
He said in the lawsuit that he had written his book after five years of research into history of India's freedom struggle and his 669-page book has references and end notes running into 67 pages.
Singh said he conceptualised the book in 1999 when then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee traveled to Lahore in Pakistan.
"It was in 1999 when he decided to explore the historical factors which led to the partition of India and he did extensive research on the role of MA Jinnah before and during the Partition," said Singh's lawsuit.
It added that his book essentially explores the transformation of Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah from being an "ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity to becoming the sole spokesman of Muslims" in India.
Singh's views on Jinnah led to his expulsion from the BJP – though he had been with the party since its inception.
The Gujarat government has banned the book taking into account Singh's reported criticism of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in the context of partition.
The ban has already been challenged in the Gujarat High Court.