Votes in Name of Religion, Caste is Corrupt Practice: SC

2019 ias preliminary exam test series

A Seven judge Constitution Bench of Supreme Court has held that seeking votes in the name of religion, caste or community amounted to corrupt practice and election of a candidate who indulged in it can be set aside.

Bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur passed the ruling by a 4:3 majority.

“Election is a secular exercise and therefore a process should be followed the relationship between man and god is an individual choice and state should keep this in mind.”

“Elections to the State legislature or to the Parliament or for that matter any body in the State is a secular exercise just as the functions of the elected representatives must be secular in both outlook and practice.”

The court was interpreting the extent of the pronoun ‘his’, used in Section 123 (3) of the Representation of People Act. The particular provision mandates that it would amount to a ‘corrupt practice’ if a candidate or his agent, or any other person with the consent of candidate, appeals for votes “on the ground of his religion, race, caste, community or language”.

The question referred to the Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India TS Thakur on a batch of election petitions was whether the word ‘his’ only meant a bar on appeals made in the name of the candidate or his rival or his agent or others in his immediate camp. Or, does the word ‘his’ also extend to soliciting votes on the basis of the religion, caste, community, race, language of the electorate as a whole.

The latter would mean a blanket ban on any appeal, reference, campaign, discussion, dialogue or debate on the basis of religion, race, caste, community or language, even if such a debate was on the deprivations suffered by the voters dues to these considerations.

The majority on the Bench — the Chief Justice and Justices Madan B Lokur, SA Bobde and L Nageshwara Rao — interpreted that by ‘his’, Parliament meant a complete ban on any reference or appeal to religion, race, community, caste and language during elections. This meant the pronoun extended to the social, linguistic and religious identity of the voter also.

Chief Justice Thakur said appealing on the basis of religion would amount to “mixing religion with State power”.

Background:

The bench was dealing with the appeal filed in 1992 by BJP leader Abhiram Singh, whose election to 1990 Maharashtra Assembly was set aside in 1991 by the Bombay High Court on the ground that he had appealed for votes on the basis of Hindu religion.

A three-judge bench on April 16, 1992 had referred Singh’s appeal in which the same question and interpretation of sub-section (3) of Section 123 of the Act was raised to a five-judge Constitution Bench.

Justices D Y Chandrachud, A K Goel and U U Lalit dissented from the majority view.

Current Affairs for IAS Exam