Elections are Essentially a Secular Activity - Supreme Court


Ajit Kumar AJIT KUMARWISDOM IAS, New Delhi.

The Supreme Court on January 2, 2017 ruled that electoral candidates can’t seek votes on the grounds of religion, caste, creed, community or language during an election campaign. Four judges out of the seven-judge Constitution bench headed by chief justice T.S. Thakur ruled that the secular ethos of the constitution had to be protected.

"No politician can seek vote in the name of caste, creed or religion," said Chief Justice TS Thakur in an order, adding that the election process must be a "secular exercise".  The Supreme Court bench held that elections would be void if a politician made an appeal for votes on the basis of religious sentiment.

“The constitution forbids state from mixing religion with politics,” the court said in the majority opinion delivered by justice Madan B. Lokur. Chief Justice Thakur, judges S.A. Bobde, Adarsh Kumar Goel and L. Nageswara Rao agreed with justice Lokur to form the majority opinion.

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.“It is a matter of free speech and through this legitimate concerns of the society are addressed,” he added.

The court had to decide the contours of law that holds seeking votes on the grounds of religion and caste as a corrupt practice. According to section 123 (3) of the People’s Representation Act of 1951, no candidate or his agent can appeal for votes on the grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language. Section 123(3) says: “The appeal by a candidate or his agent or by any other person with the consent of a candidate or his election agent to vote or refrain from voting for any person on the ground of his religion, race, caste, community or language or the use of, or appeal to religious symbols …, for the furtherance of the prospects of the election of that candidate or for prejudicially affecting the election of any candidate will be a corrupt practice.”

The case reached the apex court after there were claims that several elected candidates in the 1992 Maharashtra assembly polls had appealed to voters on religious grounds. Similar cases were brought before the apex court in 1996. However, that bench decided to refer the case to a larger bench. However, the five-judge bench was set up only in 2014, and it in turn referred it to a seven-judge bench.
 



Monday, 02nd Jan 2017, 10:10:29 AM

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