The Supreme Court in a landmark ruling on Monday said that election is a secular exercise and seeking votes in the name of religion, caste, creed, race or language is illegal.
The ruling by the apex court which pertains to the electoral malpractices in the name of religion, although is an elucidation of the existing Representation of the People Act, is highly relevant in the changing political scenario. That a 7-member Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India Justice TS Thakur passed the order by 4:3 majority, is also noticeable. According to the Section 123 (3) of the Representation of People’s Act, seeking votes spilling hatred in the name of religion, caste and race is a punishable offense. The elections would therefore be considered as void if the candidates made an appeal for the votes on the basis of religion. The apex court ruling that prohibits the use of caste, creed, language or community as a tool for securing votes in elections, and makes illegal, election campaigning as well as holding discussions and debates, undoubtedly prompt far reaching consequences in the diverse society. The new verdict also implies that any religious organization, scholar or community leader making an appeal for votes on behalf of any particular candidate will also be seen as a corrupt practice. Given that there are numerous political parties in almost all the states and at the national level that is driven by religion and caste, posting candidates for safeguarding the interest of the community to which they belong as well as campaigning and seeking votes for them now being seen as a violation of electoral practices, questions the existence of these parties.
As far as the political parties that have influence on their respective communities such as the BSP, Akali Dal, Muslim League, Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen and United Minority Front, are concerned, the SC ruling would at least give rise to skepticisms. The prospect of seeking votes and campaigning for the reasonable demands of the race, language, community or religion to which one belong without fostering enmity and hatred towards the other communities is also not clear from the ruling. That might have been the reason for the three out of the seven judges to disagree with the narrow majority and asking the Parliament to take a decision in the matter. That India is a secular democratic country and that its governance is rooted in secularism is indisputable. The electoral processes, legislatures and their formations should be faultlessly secular. However, there are copious sections in the country that are destined to live in the periphery of life due to historical and social reasons. Given that the country has not been able to ensure equal opportunities and development for them, the stringency of laws and court verdicts shouldn’t be suppressing their rights to raise their voice.
On the other side, the Constitution Bench was not even ready to touch the 1995 verdict of the Supreme Court that upheld the Sangh Parivar’s argument that the words "Hinduism" or "Hindutva" are not confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices; it indicates the culture of the people of India as a whole. Hence, using them in election propaganda is not against the election code of conduct. The Supreme Court did not even see that as a topic of consideration. So it is not surprising that the BJP welcomed the new verdict. What BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said was that his “party welcomes the ruling as it always believes in nationalist politics.” Everything is fine to the Sangh Parivar when they get indirect backing from the judiciary to their claims that Yoga, Surya Namaskar, learning Geeta and Sanskrit, beef ban, lamp lighting, Ayudha Puja and all are mere national cultural practices and programmes.
The approach the Hindutva leaders have always kept is that “There is no Hindu religion, but Hindu dharm”. Until the government or the judiciary is ready to examine the rights and wrongs in that argument, the unilateral questioning of minority religions and communities and other lowest casts is not going see any end.
The CPI-M that welcomed the SC verdict in the name of secularism had, however, pointed out that we should not fail to notice the difference between seeking vote in the name of religion, caste and community and problematizing social discrimination and injustice. It is desirable that the other secular parties take note of that.