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3 Jan 2017

Religion and polls can't mix- SWACHH VERDICTS Court targetsvitiated elections, ordinance raj and wicked games

A scene from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Lucknow, the capital of poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, on Monday. It remains to be seen whether motifs such as the mace being held aloft by the BJP supporter will be viewed as appealing to religious sentiments after the Supreme Court’s majority verdict on the same day. Picture by Naeem Ansari
R. Balaji, TT, New Delhi, Jan. 2: Appealing for votes on the basis of the religion, race, caste, community or language of all stakeholders, including the voters, will invite disqualification of the candidates, the Supreme Court ruled today in a majority verdict.
The landmark 4-3 decision by the seven-judge constitution bench essentially seeks to drive home the message that religion and other features of identity politics have no place in a secular activity like elections.
Till now, it was unsettled whether the word "his" in the relevant section of the Representation of the People Act referred to the candidate alone or to the voters also.
The distinction has far-reaching consequences because if "his" meant only the candidate, he or she can still appeal to the religious or caste sentiments of voters as long as the candidate's personal religion does not come into play.
But the majority verdict today settled the matter. "The word 'his'... must necessarily be taken to embrace the entire transaction of the appeal to vote made to voters and must be held referable to all the actors involved i.e. the candidate, his election agent etc. and the voter," Justice S.A. Bobde, who concurred with the majority verdict, wrote in his separate judgment.
After this judgment, the use of religion, race, caste, community or language to canvass votes will amount to a "corrupt practice".
Some politicians felt that since the latest constitution bench did not go into a 1995 verdict that defined Hindutva as "a way of life", Sangh parivar sympathisers might continue to seek votes on the Hindutva plank by contending that it is not a religion. But several lawyers said today's verdict explicitly stated that votes should not be sought on religion and there was little scope for confusion.
The effectiveness of today's verdict will be tested soon in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, where communal polarisation and caste politics often play a decisive role during elections.
The majority view was shared by Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justices Bobde, Madan B. Lokur and L. Nageswara Rao, while the dissenting opinion was given by Justices A.K. Goel, D.Y. Chandrachud and U.U. Lalit.
Justice Thakur said in the judgment: "Electoral processes are doubtless secular activities of the State. Religion can have no place in such activities for religion is a matter personal to the individual with which neither the State nor any other individual has anything to do."
The Chief Justice added: "The relationship between man and God and the means which humans adopt to connect with the Almighty are matters of individual preferences and choices. The State is under an obligation to allow complete freedom for practising, professing and propagating religious faith... but the freedom so guaranteed has nothing to do with secular activities which the State undertakes."
The minority view also put forward a compelling argument. Authored by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, the minority opinion held that people had been discriminated against on the basis of religion and caste, and access to governance is a means of addressing social disparities. If a candidate is prevented from speaking on the need for a remedy to such injustices, democracy might be reduced to an abstraction, the minority view said.

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