The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions on whether religion can be used to garner votes in an election and whether it will amount to a “corrupt practice” warranting
The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions on whether religion can be used to garner votes in an election and whether it will amount to a “corrupt practice” warranting disqualification of the winning candidate.
A seven Judge Bench comprising the Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justices M. B. Lokur, S.A. Bobde, A.K. Goel, Uday Lalit, D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageswar Rao reserved the verdict at the conclusion of arguments spread over two weeks on the question of law relating to the interpretation of “corrupt practice” within the meaning of Section 123 (3) of the Representation of the People Act.
At the outset, the CJI again clarified on Thursday that the seven-judge bench is not going into the larger debate as to what is Hindutva or what is its meaning and it will confine the scope only whether religion can be used to garner votes in an election.
The CJI cautioned the counsel that seeking votes in the name of religion might affect the secular concept of elections in our democracy and such a thing cannot be allowed.
The CJI said that in a secular country, any appeal to the voters should be in tune with secular philosophy and political agitation advancing the cause of religion with an intent to garner votes is not permissible. It was the submission on behalf of the appellants that an appeal by a candidate to voters other than those who share his religion is not proscribed. It was argued that certain political parties like Akali Dal and Indian Muslim League were registered on the basis of their religious ideologies. It was not possible to completely shut them from making any appeal on the basis of religion.
Countering this argument, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said the phrase “voting for any person’ in Section 123 (3) of the RP Act must be construed widely to include within its ambit, even such persons who are not directly involved in the electoral process.
If Parliament’s intention was to restrict such appeals in regard to candidates alone, it would have specifically so stated and not used the wider phrase `any person’.
Arguing for social activist Teesta Setalvad and two others, senior counsel Indira Jaising said politics and religion should not be mixed. Religion of a candidate cannot be used for gaining political mileage by seeking votes on the ground of the candidate’s religion or the on the ground of other candidate’s religion or on voters’ religion.
Indira Jaising said “you cannot misuse religion to garner votes. The expression `his/her’ religion should be given an expanded meaning to mean all those who are directly or indirectly involved in the election. She said that every appeal for votes in the name of religion whether it is by the candidate, his agent, the party or by anyone should be barred. Former Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid cited the legal position prevailing in other countries to drive home the point that use of religion to seek votes by anyone should be prohibited.