Can't seek vote on basis of religion: SC

Can't seek vote on basis of religion: SC

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that an election could be annulled if candidates seek votes in the name of their religion or that of their voters.

The apex court’s seven-judge bench, by a 4:3 majority view, enlarged the scope of the Representation of People Act 1951.

Till now, soliciting votes on the basis of religion and other such considerations was restricted to that of the candidates alone.

The latest ruling is now significant in the sense that any attempt to canvass for votes on the ground of religion or other such parochial identities – either of the candidate’s or on behalf of his agents or groups or his opponents – would invite the provisions of the Representation of People Act.

The court interpreted Section 123(3) of the Representation of People Act to mean that this provision was brought in with an intent “to clearly proscribe appeals based on sectarian, linguistic or caste considerations”.

Section 123(3) defines as “corrupt practice” appeals made by a candidate or his agents to vote or refrain from voting for any person on the ground of “his” religion, race, caste, community or language.

In their majority view, Chief Justice T S Thakur, Justices Madan B Lokur, S A Bobde and L Nageswara Rao ruled in favour of a “purposive interpretation”, stating that “his” would mean the religion of the candidate, his agents, voters as well as any other person who, with the candidate’s consent, brings up religion or such subjects in an election.

“An appeal in the name of religion, race, caste, community or language is impermissible under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and would constitute a corrupt practice sufficient to annul the election in which such an appeal was made regardless of whether the appeal was in the name of the candidate’s religion or the religion of the election agent or that of the opponent or that of the voters,” the majority view held.
“The state being secular in character will not identify itself with any one of the religions or religious denominations...The elections to the state legislature or to Parliament or for that matter any other 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 Chief Justice said in his separate verdict.

Justices Adarsh K Goel, Uday U Lalit and D Y Chandrachud, however, dissented with the majority’s view, holding that the expression “his” used in conjunction with religion, race, caste, community or language is in reference to the candidate, in whose favour the appeal to cast a vote is made, or that of a rival candidate when an appeal is made to refrain from voting for another.

“His” in Section 123(3) of the RP Act cannot validly refer to the religion, race, caste, community or language of the voter, they said.

“To hold that a person who seeks to contest an election is prohibited from speaking of the legitimate concerns of citizens that the injustices faced by them on the basis of traits having an origin in religion, race, caste, community or language would be remedied is to reduce democracy to an abstraction,” the minority judgement held.

The Constitution bench explained the meaning of the term “his” since that was relevant as to whose religion it has to be when an appeal is made.

The reference to the seven-judge bench was made in view of the conflicting rulings in the previous judgements.

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