Just ahead of the crucial assembly elections in five states, including the communally sensitive Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court on Monday held that politicians cannot use religion, caste, race, community or language to seek votes as this amounts to corrupt practices under electoral laws.
A bench led by Chief Justice T S Thakur in its 4:3 majority decision said the term ‘his religion’ used in Section 123(3) of the Representation of the Peoples Act, which deals with ‘corrupt practice’, means the religion and caste of all including voters, candidates and their agents, among others.
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The majority view, also supported by justices M B Lokur, S A Bobde and L Nageshwar Rao, 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. It further said the function of an elected representative should be secular. “Religion has no role in electoral process, which is a secular activity,” the top court said, adding that “mixing state with religion is not constitutionally permissible.”
However, the minority view held that the term ‘his religion’ means religion of candidate only. The dissenting judgment given by three judges — justices A K Goel, U U Lalit and D Y Chandrachud — said such a decision amounted to “judicial redrafting of the law” and to prohibit people from articulating legitimate concerns reduced “democracy to an abstraction”.