When I met Keshavananda Bharathi

Kesavananda Bharati

Associate Editor, Raghul Sudheesh met the most referred to name in Indian Constitutional law - None other than His Holiness Sri Keshavananda Bharathi Sripadangalavaru! Read on to find out about Raghul’s unique journey and fascinating conversation with this celebrity petitioner of the Fundamental Rights case.

 

Think ‘Constitutional Law’ and it is very likely that the first case that comes to your mind is ‘Keshavananda Bharathi v. State of Kerala’. This landmark judgment, which runs into several hundred pages, is famous for several reasons. It is the biggest hurdle in the lives of young students as well as the most experienced minds in the sphere of Constitutional Law. The judgment laid down the foundation of the judiciary’s power to review and strike down amendments to the Constitution of India and also laid down the extent to which the Parliament can restrict the right to property. What further sets it apart is that it was delivered by a thirteen judge bench at a time when there were only thirteen judges serving in the Supreme Court. In no other matter have thirteen judges sat together either before or after the Keshavananda Bharathi case.

 

The importance of the judgment is indeed well known, but few people pause and think about the man behind this judgment, His Holiness Keshavananda Bharathi Sripadangalavaru. My curiosity about the real person behind this landmark case took me on an unexpected and fascinating journey.

 

My quest for information began with me contacting my mentor and teacher of Constitutional Law from law school, Shanmugham D. J. He told me that he has met Bharathi, and informed me that Bharathi lives at a Mutt called Edneer Mutt, in a remote place near Kasargod. That was all I needed to make up my mind that I will meet Bharathi. A few days and phone calls later, I was on a bus to Mangalore, en route to Kasargod to meet His Holiness Sri Keshavananda Bharathi Sripadangalavaru!

 

I arrived at Mangalore early in the morning and then took a train to Kasargod, which is a pleasant sea side town. I then took a bus to Edneer, where Bharathi’s mutt is situated. The lush greenery and beauty of the Mutt and its surroundings were really captivating. The mutt is situated on the banks of the Madhuvahini river. It is a pleasant building with two schools situated on the site, as well as a school for Vedic Studies. All these centers of learning, I was told, are run by Bharathi.

 

Bharathi is referred as ‘His Holiness’ as he is a peetadhipati (chief patron of a religious sect) and heads the Edneer Mutt (pictured which was started by devotees of Sri Adi Sankaracharya. The mutt has been headed by Bharti since he was 19 years old. From the moment I got an appointment with Bharathi, I knew that it would be a million-dollar moment. My excitement knew no bounds when I finally arrived at the mutt.

 

There was a pooja taking place at the mutt when I arrived. When the pooja was done by around 6 in the evening, I met Bharathi for the first time and had a very brief conversation with him. I couldn’t believe that I was standing in front of the most referred name in Constitutional Law. Bharathi was very cordial and friendly. He asked me about my whereabouts and said he would speak to me at length the next day. He extended an invitation for me to stay at his guest house until then.

 

I woke up early next morning, all set to meet Bharathi. On entering the main building, I saw that there was a group of people who were visiting the mutt. On seeing Sri Keshavananda Bharathi enter, they immediately dropped to their knees to greet him. It struck me just how much this man was revered and respected; he actually has devotees! Before meeting him, I had a conversation with one of his disciples, who made me aware of the fact that people would give offerings to Bharathi and seek his blessings when they meet him.  I followed suit and bought some fruits to give as an offering.

 

Due to some unexpected visitors, I had to wait for an hour to meet him. On finally meeting him and speaking to him at length, I realized that for this man, the case was merely an event in his life that happened to have taken place thirty years ago. I was lucky to listen to some of his songs which were sung by him for his unexpected visitors. It is a less know fact that, he is a great singer and lover of Carnatic music. It was quite interesting to learn that either he wasn’t aware of, or didn’t attribute much importance to, his contribution to Indian law. After the conversation was over, he gifted me some books and CD’s about the mutt and also took down my contact details, fulfilling his role of a gracious host. At the end of the day, even though he played down his own importance in the legal world, the trip was quite a unique experience for me.

 

Below are excerpts from my conversation with him. 

 

Raghul Sudheesh: To begin with, tell us something about your personal life.

 

H. H. Keshavananda Bharathi: I come from a family that has been running this ashram for generations. At the age of 19, I succeeded Sri Ishwarananda Bharathi Swamiji as head of the Mutt as family custom dictated so. I continue to do the good work of my guru and perform the poojas and upasana (rituals) of Sri Dakshinamurthy and Sri Gopalakrishna, the presiding deities of the Mutt.  I am actively involved with religious, art, social and cultural activities. I love listening to Carnatic and Hindustani music in my free time.

 

Raghul Sudheesh: What are your memories and experiences regarding the case?

 

H. H. Keshavananda Bharathi: I don’t remember much about fighting the case. The entire thing was handled by lawyers, who I think did a good job. I was in my late twenties or early thirties when the case came up before the Supreme Court. All our property was about to be acquired by the Government, and we could not afford that to happen. The money we needed for running the mutt was being generated from this property. We approached Mr. M. K. Nambyar, who was a renowned lawyer. He prepared the initial files for the case. Later, Mr. Nambyar introduced us to Nani Palkhiwala. Of the judges, I don’t remember all of them. However, I do remember Justice H. R. Khanna and Justice K. S. Hegde well.

 

Raghul Sudheesh: What were the difficulties faced by you after the enforcement of the land acquisition law?

 

H. H. Keshavananda Bharathi: We lost all our property. Prior to the enactment of the law, we had enough revenue from the property and could run the mutt without any difficulty and also do various charitable activities. However, now, we don’t have enough money to run the institution and have to depend upon donations. Our income has reduced considerably and our expenses have increased very much.

 

Raghul Sudheesh: Do you think that the decision to acquire land was part of vote bank politics practised by the Kerala Government, which happens to be the world’s first democratically elected communist government?

 

H. H. Keshavananda Bharathi: I do not think so. The Congress government brought this law into effect in Karnataka. Many other state governments also enforced the land acquisition law. And though the Kerala Government was a Communist Government, Temple or Mutt-owned property was exempted from the Government acquisition unlike in other States. It is only because of this exemption that we have at least some property left with us now.

 

Government rules do cause difficulty to people at times. We have to abide by it and cannot say whether it is right or wrong. We approached the court only when we felt that the government encroached upon our rights.

 

Raghul Sudheesh: Why did you approach the Supreme Court directly?

 

H. H. Keshavananda Bharathi: It was the course of action that was advised by the lawyers, as they felt that approaching the Supreme Court would have the required impact.

 

Raghul Sudheesh: What was your first reaction upon hearing the judgment?

 

H. H. Keshavananda Bharathi: I didn’t feel much, because I am not an emotional person. I believe that it was all God’s decision. After all, the property is not mine, it all belongs to the mutt and I am only someone who is managing it. So the loss or the gain is actually the mutt’s. I am a neutral person, only a servant of God. I felt that God would be happy with what I did as I was successful in my duty of protecting the mutt.

 

However, it’s a fact that many people have benefited from the judgment. The fact that the case is quoted so many times in the Supreme Court is proof that many people are being benefited from our fighting this case.

 

Raghul Sudheesh: Did you expect that this judgment would become such a landmark judgment?

 

H. H. Keshavananda Bharathi: No, I never thought so. It happened unexpectedly. Also, I never knew the legal complications as it was well managed by the lawyers. I never even went to court to witness the proceedings.

 

Raghul Sudheesh: Do you still often think of the judgment today?

 

H. H. Keshavananda Bharathi: No, the judgment is just a memory now. I only remember it when I am asked to comment about it. I heard that a book about the judgment has recently been released. People have been asking me if I was approached by the authors of the book, but I wasn’t. I wonder how they released a book about it without informing me, or asking me about the details of the case.

 

Raghul Sudheesh: What are your future plans for the mutt?

 

H. H. Keshavananda Bharathi: We are facing a lot of difficulties in running the mutt as we don’t have much revenue. However, we are trying our best to run it. I will eventually hand it over to my successor.

 

Raghul Sudheesh is Associate Editor at Bar & Bench. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Comments

(37)

Blah

February 27, 2012 - 1:38pm

"In no other matter have thirteen judges sat together either before or after the Keshavanda Bharathi case."Not true.

(37)

Anupama

February 27, 2012 - 4:10pm

awsm Raghul..thnx..

(37)

Anand Sharma

February 27, 2012 - 5:57pm

A nice conversation. So this was the cause for Moving Supreme court.

(37)

sreekanth

February 27, 2012 - 5:57pm

That's a great job Raghul... really appreciate you

(37)

Srishti

February 27, 2012 - 7:31pm

awesome interview Raghul. I wish he knew about the torture the case has been inflicting upon the constitutional law students year after year. Unfortunately, the epochal case is just another event in his life!

(37)

Shubhendu

February 27, 2012 - 10:44pm

Very nice interview, not just in terms of content but also because of the person who is interviewed. I too wish to visit the mutt and meet His Holiness. Could you please guide?

(37)

Raj Mehta

February 27, 2012 - 10:44pm

something really interesting!

(37)

Bhasker Pegu

February 28, 2012 - 7:34am

The Keshavanda Bharti case was most frequently referred to while we're once Political Science student.This interview took me to my college days when our friends complaint,"who was this Keshavanand Bharti" because during undergrad we'd to remember lots of things relating to the case.That sometime made us puzzle.Hats off to Sudheeshji for this great rendezvous!

(37)

Kartikeya Tanna

February 28, 2012 - 7:34am

It is admirable that you chose to discover facets about the most notable Petitioner in Indian law. Great job!

(37)

Roy Mathews

February 28, 2012 - 10:49am

Good story editor... I am also curious to know about the remuneration of that ten year old from unknown city for posting such things.. I was also curious to know more about keshavantha baharathi and why was he addressed his holiness and all.. thanks to the author. And keep it up. I appreciate the effort..

(37)

law student

February 28, 2012 - 4:21pm

See the no. of likes and comments for this article Mr. 10yr old!! RES IPSA LOQUITOR!!guess u have no better job to do!!Raghul Sudheesh: well done..and thankyou for such an informative interview!!

(37)

RK

February 27, 2012 - 1:51pm

Amazing interview. Always wanted to know the views of the petitioner of the Supreme Court's most famous decision till date.However, would have loved if more questions related to the case were asked.

(37)

Anita Agrawal

March 1, 2012 - 12:10pm

Interesting!

(37)

nagashayana

March 2, 2012 - 6:44pm

Brilliant attempt. Keep it up.

(37)

NUALS is the best.!!

March 2, 2012 - 10:17pm

Shanmughan sir....pride of NUALS.!!

(37)

gagan

March 10, 2012 - 12:01pm

excellent coverage... one of the best real research done on SC cases. I would be happy if BnB would do some research on the authors - Ratanlal n Dhirajlal who gave us the brilliant IPC commentary.

(37)

priya ravi

March 12, 2012 - 10:56pm

nice interview raghul..at last we met the man behind d "basic structure doctrine"..thanks & best wishes!!!

(37)

Qq

March 16, 2012 - 8:28am

V interesting

(37)

bismi

September 14, 2012 - 10:30am

good work.

(37)

Deepesh Agrawal

September 15, 2012 - 8:39am

It was just a delight to read this article. I would suggest it to every law student. Thanks a lot for sharing Raghul and keep doing your work which is needless to say, excellent :)

(37)

Chandrasekhar K...

February 12, 2013 - 3:51pm

Swamiji's simplicity and candour astounds me. Raghul credits the Swamiji as the person behind the landmark judgement in our constitutional law. Perhaps Mr. Raghul was somewhat thrown off by the Swamiji's statement that the case was prepared, argued and otherwise handled by eminent jurists. The Revered Swamiji certainly underplays his talents and skills. For instance, he just said that he loves to hear carnatic and hindustani music in his spare time!!! Actually, Swamiji is an accomplished vocalist. I bought a cassete during 1990 at Sringeri wherein Swamiji sings Saraswati and Sharada stuti including Sharada Bhujangam on one side and on the other gives a marvellous rendering of Shyamala Dandhakam. His music is indeed Divine. I have heard several musicians rendering these stutis. But none could come anywhere near Swamiji's rendering. His voice, his diction and rendering were just out of the world!!! I think the casette recording was done by Sangeetha. For the past 10 years, I have been searching the internet in vain to find a mention of his songs / bhajans / stotras / stutis etc. Nobody seem to know about this aspect of our beloved and reverred Swami ji. Even the Mutt's web page seem silent about this. In a world and time when even cheap upstarts upload their derisive talents and want to grab limelight, this sage does not even say that he is also an artist....Will somebody upload Swami ji's music?

(37)

Chandrasekhar K...

February 12, 2013 - 3:51pm

Swamiji's simplicity and candour astounds me. Raghul credits the Swamiji as the person behind the landmark judgement in our constitutional law. Perhaps Mr. Raghul was somewhat thrown off by the Swamiji's statement that the case was prepared, argued and otherwise handled by eminent jurists.

(37)

If only he reme...

February 27, 2012 - 2:31pm

It's mentioned in the interview, he doesn't remember much about it. It's just another event in his life that took place many years ago. :)

(37)

Venkatesh Hegde

February 27, 2012 - 2:31pm

very nice interview .I had downloaded the entire judgment. Really its a landmark judgment.

(37)

10 year old

February 27, 2012 - 3:13pm

The writeup seems like by a 10 year old! Are you an editor? Really?

(37)

Anon

February 27, 2012 - 3:17pm

Oye 10 Year Old: Can you please point out whats wrong with this story? Its quite an interesting story. Are you paid to post this comment??

(37)

Raghul Sudheesh

February 27, 2012 - 3:17pm

@RK Mumbai: Thanks. I did ask more law related to questions, but he neither remembers much about the case nor knows much about the legal complications involved.

(37)

Shivendra

February 27, 2012 - 3:19pm

Nice Interview Raghul! Keep it up!

(37)

Amit Jain

February 27, 2012 - 4:10pm

Great Interview Raghul. Keep it up

(37)

simha

May 9, 2013 - 8:18am

Please provide some details of the case, why it is important, what did the court do.how it has heled. without providing this crucial detail, everything else is being described..

(37)

Vishal Raj Sehijpal

April 24, 2014 - 8:49pm

Well I found nothing unusual about the interview. Neither the content was plausible nor the concept. Maybe the only reason it is fascinating the people is the personality who have been interviewed.... Keshwanand Bharati..... thats it. In that also there is nothing spl...

Your Name: 
Vishal Raj Sehijpal

(37)

Garima rai

April 24, 2014 - 9:16pm

It was really very interesting... Gr8 job man..!!

Your Name: 
Garima rai

(37)

manish thatte

April 24, 2014 - 10:57pm

The petitioner seems to be unaware of t far reaching consequences of his petition... :)

Your Name: 
manish thatte

(37)

madhukardhakal

April 25, 2014 - 7:59am

Actually we are correct,
But actually we are not perfect.......
Cause we are the human being,
Determinism from us to GOD is a natural thing.............
'Every action has its equal & opposite reaction' by the divine deity,,,
For the humans, i.e.,we all, are the part of the nature not the judge to just the humanity......

Your Name: 
madhukardhakal

(37)

Vinson Vaz

April 25, 2014 - 6:58pm

Hi,
I am a lawyer by profession and currently studying for my LLM. Even though I was born and brought up I Mangalore and studied there, I never knew I lived so close to the great man whose name is being mentioned and will be mentioned forever in Eternity, Keshavnanda Bharati, who have influenced so many Indians through the landmark judgment! Thank you for the article!

Your Name: 
Vinson Vaz

(37)

ashok

May 30, 2014 - 10:49pm

it was a const bench that refered d matter to kesavananda bench (13 judges) after d judgment/referral was returned, wht was d outcome on the mutts property. n wht abt that jugment --wht citation--tht finally decided the issue based on the kesavananda judgment?
Pls clarify/

Your Name: 
ashok

(37)

biju a nair

June 1, 2014 - 11:27am

Rahgul ,

You have indeed done a good job . Congrats !

Along with the contribution of H.H. , the role of eminent lawyers ( as observed by H.H ) and sacrifice made by great judges should also be remembered . I remember, in one of the memoirs of late Chandubhai Dahphtary , the first day of Keshavanda Bharati hearing in Supreme Court was narrated . Tired by facing the scathing and continuous vocal attack from the Bench , the great doyen of Indian Bar- late Nani Palkhiwala got perturbed and told Mr.Daphtary that he preferred to relinquish . Mr. Daphtary consoled him . Same day evening , Mr. Daphtary met Chief Justice of India ( S.M.Sikri CJ ) who was heading the bench in his chamber and conveyed him the well articulated story of a little girl who witnessed the court proceedings on that day . The girl got perplexed and asked her father why the man standing at the bottom was interfering with the continuous speech /sermon made by the gentle men at the dais . The effort yielded result , next day onwards it was Nani’s turn and rest is history . It is also read somewhere that on the next of deliverance of Keshavananda Bharti judgment , the new CJ. , A.N.Ray constituted a special bench to review the judgment , but due to stiff opposition from the S. C. Bar lead by Nani and others the same did not materialise .

Also , the wrath of executive had fallen on three senior most judges – J.M Shelat, A.N Grover and K.S Hedge, in the form of superseding by their junior , A.N Ray .J , on the same day of the celebrated judgment . K.S.Hedge. J also suffered consequences subsequently , when his turn of elevation came in the form elevation M.H. Beg. J as CJI

Along with H.H. , let us remember all of them .

Best wishes

Biju A Nair, Advocate , Ahmedabad

Your Name: 
biju a nair

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