January 31, 2024


Was the CJI right to visit temples and give interviews about it?

The judiciary is perhaps the most vital branch of government today. The rules are simple – be independent and don’t succumb to political and ideological biases. At the top is the Chief Justice of India (CJI). An eminent position that comes with its fair share of media attention and scrutiny, especially in recent years.

The current CJI, DY Chandrachud, has ruffled some feathers recently. Earlier this month, he visited some Hindu temples in Gujarat. Speaking to the press, he said he’s visiting states “inspired by the life and ideals of Mahatma Gandhi” to understand challenges faced by the judiciary and identify solutions. Given the timing of the visits and his interviews, did the CJI break norms or protocols?


Justice Chandrachud has a unique place in modern Indian judicial and political history. He was part of a five-judge bench that delivered the Ayodhya verdict in 2019. All five Supreme Court judges paved the way for the Ram temple to be constructed in Ayodhya.

As the days approached the temple’s inauguration, the Uttar Pradesh government’s list of invitees included over 50 jurists, including former Chief Justices like Ranjan Gogoi and SA Bobde. Former Supreme Court judges Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer, who were part of the 2019 verdict, were also invited.

Chandrachud was sworn in as India’s 50th Chief Justice in November 2022. His predecessors had a chequered tenure with mixed results and controversies. When Chandrachud came in, he was seen as a progressive. He stood for LGBTQ+ rights during the decriminalisation of Article 377. In the Hadiya love jihad case, he emphasised an adult’s right to decide on marriage and religion. He was part of a bench that recognised privacy as a fundamental right.

In the year and change since he took over, he’s offered remarks and judgments with progressive language. He’s given lectures on press freedom, the importance of democracy and dissent. Some, however, have been let down by his rulings on matters where the Centre was under scrutiny.

In the aftermath of the Ayodhya verdict in 2019, he was seen in the photograph of the judges linking hands in the verdict’s aftermath. That verdict is peculiar since it didn’t carry the name of the judge who wrote it, a break from tradition. The judges decided to “speak to the nation in one voice on such an important and historic issue”. However, some believe it was Chandrachud who wrote it.

In the backdrop of this, his recent visit to temples in Gujarat has raised eyebrows. His temple visits were supplemented with messages urging district court lawyers to function in a manner that the “dhwaja of justice” keeps flying. He took inspiration from the dhwajas, or flags atop temples, which he said, “binds us all together”.

While his intentions were to understand the judiciary’s issues and be inspired by Gandhi, was the CJI out of bounds in speaking openly about his temple visits?

VIEW: He did nothing wrong

It should be said at the outset that Chandrachud isn’t the first CJI to visit temples during his tenure. In 2020, CJI Sharad Arvind Bobde offered prayers at the famous hill shrine of Lord Sri Venkateswara Swamy at Tirumala. Chandrachud himself visited Vijayawada’s Durga Devi temple in late 2022 and offered prayers. These visits weren’t controversial at the time, and were seen for exactly what they were – citizens exercising their freedom of worship.

Understandably, a person of note or a public figure visiting a temple would attract some media attention. Criticism of, in particular, the Chief Justice of India visiting temples seems inconsistent since there was no similar controversy when Rahul Gandhi visited the Golden Temple in October and was photographed washing dishes.

Some of the criticism concerning the timing of Chandrachud’s visits being a little over a week before the Ram Temple’s inauguration doesn’t hold water. Gandhi himself spoke of Hinduism and regarded humanity at its heart. His temple entries were a way to bring that to the forefront. The Chief Justice’s statements were an expression of his faith and not scholarly, historical, or ideological analysis.

COUNTERVIEW: Not a good look

Customs and culture have impacted the judiciary. There has been an increasing trend in using these to justify restrictions on fundamental rights. Chandrachud, in some ways, is at the centre of this. Not putting a name to the Ayodhya verdict could be seen as modesty or plain cowardice. His decision to wear saffron, not an essential uniform, while visiting temples conjures an unsettling image to some. While some may argue it’s inconsequential, it was a deliberate choice.

Mixing religion and the Constitution is a slippery slope. Chandrachud’s assertion of some sort of congruence between the flags flying atop Hindu temples and the Constitution is misleading. It came at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was asking the country to celebrate the Ram Temple’s inauguration, which has a criminal past. Chandrachud is a part of the decision that facilitated building the temple, a symbol of divisive politics.

Invoking Gandhi can sometimes be used as a cover. While Gandhi described himself as a Hindu, he chose to worship through inter-faith meetings where people from different religions gathered and prayed. Seeing the dhwaja atop temples as a symbol of unity is a flawed understanding of history and religious texts. Hindu temples have historically discriminated against Dalits. Such visits and their timings raise troubling questions about the CJI’s judgment.

Reference Links:

  • CJI Chandrachud, part of Ayodhya verdict bench, unlikely to attend Jan 22 consecration ceremony – Deccan Herald
  • The gap he maintained: The dichotomy between CJI Chandrachud’s words and deeds in 2023 – Newslaundry
  • After temple visits, CJI D Y Chandrachud flags ‘dhwaja of justice’ to district court lawyers – The Indian Express
  • CJI Invokes ‘Dhwaja’ on Temples to Serve as Inspiration for Courts, Draws Attention – The Wire
  • Guha’s flawed understanding of Gandhi and Hinduism: Why Chief Justice is within his rights to visit temples – Firstpost
  • How the humble saffron became a divisive political tool – Frontline
  • Ramachandra Guha: The Chief Justice and the Father of the Nation – Scroll

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The CJI did no wrong in visiting temples and giving interviews about it.

b) The CJI was wrong in visiting temples and giving interviews about it.


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