New Delhi, January 3 (The New Indian Express): Days before the Election Commission announces the dates for polling in five states, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that seeking of votes in the name of caste, creed or religion would amount to ‘corrupt practice’.
The landmark verdict is expected to have a significant impact on states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab where religion and caste play a major role in elections. Construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya is one of the key issues used often to woo voters in Uttar Pradesh.
Four out of the seven-judge constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur, said elections would be declared void if votes were sought on the basis of caste, creed or religion.
While the 1995 judgment, written by former Justice J S Verma, interpreted the term ‘his religion’ – used in section 123(3) of the Representation of the People Act which deals with ‘corrupt practice’ – as the faith of only the candidates, Monday’s ruling also applies to the agents and voters.
“Freedom to follow religion has nothing to do with the secular nature of the State. Relationship between man and god is an individual choice and State is forbidden to have allegiance to such an activity,” they said.
Three judges—justices Adarsh Kumar Goel, U.U. Lalit and D.Y. Chandrachud—dissented with the majority opinion and said that the matter must be left to Parliament to decide.
“Discussion on caste, creed, religion is constitutionally protected within and outside elections and this cannot be restricted,” justice Chandrachud held, writing the minority opinion.
The dissenting judges also said that such a decision could be seen as prohibiting people from articulating legitimate concerns and reducing “democracy to an abstraction”.
“No government is perfect. The law doesn’t prohibit dialogue or discussion of a matter which is concern to the voters,” they said.
“Candidates might have to speak about genuine, legitimate concerns of citizens on the basis of religion, caste language etc and holding them guilty of electoral malpractice for the same will hit at the idea of democracy.”
(The featured image at the top shows the Indian Supreme Court in New Delhi)