The court ruled that seeking votes in the name of religion, caste, race or community is illegal. But how practical is the judgment considering that even candidates are selected based on religion and caste equations. And, more importantly, what is new in the judgment with the Election Commission can strike down elections where religion played a role.
The Supreme Court on Monday outlawed seeking votes in the name of religion, caste, race, community or language.
The judgment comes ahead of crucial assembly elections in five states where faith and caste are top poll issues. Religion and caste equations are rampant in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab – the two crucial states that would go to polls early this year.
A seven-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice of India TS Thakur – who retires on Tuesday – said the secular ethos of the Constitution had to be maintained by keeping elections a secular exercise.
“The relationship between man and god is an individual choice. The state is forbidden to have allegiance to such an activity,” the bench said.
But three of the seven judges dissented and said any such verdict would reduce democracy to an abstraction.
“Mixing state with religion is not constitutionally permissible,” the judges said.
But what is new in the judgment? In any case, the Election Commission can step in if religion is used as a card for winning polls. That the Election Commission has not used its power to its fullest extent is a fact. But that is not the fault of the law.
What has the Supreme Court have to say on candidates being selected based on religion, caste and sub-castes, not on merit. For example, in Uttar Pradesh, a Yadav is selected as a candidate in a Yadav-dominated constituency; a Muslim in a Muslim-dominated area. Is this not religious symbolism?
And how practical can this judgment be? What will happen if Hindus invoke the Ram Temple in Uttar Pradesh, or the Shahi Imam of Macca Masjid asks people to vote for a particular party or priests in Kerala Churches send out a message on voting preference? Would the election process be struck down or will it be restricted to just a loudmouth candidate who invokes religion to garner votes?
This judgment is ideal, but can it be implemented? That is doubtful considering the huge influence of religion and caste in the electoral process.
The Supreme Court was revisiting a 20-year-old judgment that called Hinduism a “way of life” and said a candidate was not affected prejudicially if votes were sought on this plank. But several petitions filed over the years have challenged the verdict.