Stop going to seers, mutts for votes

Stop going to seers, mutts for votes

Temples, mutts and other places of religious importance are receiving greater attention from political parties and their leaders in the campaign for the coming assembly elections in Karnataka. Religious leaders will be in greater demand than at most other times, as they wield influence among their followers, which politicians want to translate into votes. The visits and meetings have already started and parties are finalising more schedules of top leaders where barnstorming gets mixed up with religious tours. Rahul Gandhi went to the Huligemma temple in Koppal early this month. BJP president Amit Shah visited the Kukke Subramanya temple and the Sri Krishna temple in Udupi and sought the blessings of Sri Vishwesha Theertha Swamiji of the Pejawar mutt. Shah had more visits in his itinerary but he had to cut short his visit due to ill health. On an earlier visit to the state he had met other religious leaders, trying to flock Hindu vote banks together. Both leaders are sure to make more such visits in the coming days. Other leaders will also not be lacking in fervour and devotion.  

Election laws ban appeals to the electorate on the basis of religion, caste, community, race and language. It is difficult to proceed against parties and candidates on these grounds as specific instances have to be pointed out and pursued, but candidates have been disqualified in the past for such appeals. Last year's Supreme Court judgement, clarifying Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, said that elections are a secular exercise and religion should not be mixed with matters of state. The highly visible and well-publicised visits of party leaders and candidates to religious places and their meetings with religious heads ahead of elections violate the spirit of this legal and constitutional bar on appeal to religion and community. Such visits and the statements sometimes made by religious leaders influence the choice of voters and go against the idea of free and fair elections.  

The BJP has always riled against imams and maulvis issuing fatwas to Muslims to vote for a particular party or candidate. But it is asking for the same kind of appeals by Hindu religious leaders in its favour now. Rahul Gandhi visited many temples, including the Somnath temple, in Gujarat during the campaign for the assembly elections there last year. It is said that the Congress is developing a 'soft' Hindutva platform to counter the BJP's harder version. The Election Commission must take note of this wrong and dangerous trend and seek ways to curb it. Parties should go to the people on the basis of their promises and performance on matters of governance and development and desist from appealing to narrow and sectarian passions and identities.

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