New Delhi: Through an order that will be difficult to implement by the Election Commission of India (ECI), a bench of the Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that political parties cannot appeal to the electorate to vote along caste or religious lines. Chief Justice of India TS Thakur, Justice Sharad Bobde, Justice Madan Lokur, Justice Rao, Justice UU Lalit, Justice Adarsh Goel and Justice DY Chandrachud constituted the bench. The last three judges did not agree with the first four.
The SC was reacting to public interest litigations filed against the Manohar Joshi case of 1995 involving electoral malpractices wherein Justuce JS Verma had obsrved, “It is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption that any reference to Hindutva or Hinduism in a speech makes it automatically a speech based on Hindu religion as opposed to other religions.” The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters are often found citing this observation as a judgment that said Hinduism was a way of life.
Today, the SC said, “Relation between an individual and God is an independent choice.” If a candidate is found soliciting votes in the name of religion, one can legally proceed against him or her for violating the Representation of People’s Act, the apex court ruled.
In a previous hearing, the court had refused to reverse the 1995 verdict.
While parties registered with the ECI in this decade have to comform to more stringent guidelines, the older parties not only get away with communal appeals but they are also sometimes named either after a religion or a symbol thereof. Some prominent examples are the Indian Union Muslim League active in Kerala, Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen that is trying to spread its influence across the country and Shiromani Akali Dal active in Punjab and a few adjoining States. Curiously, the Supreme Court did not touch upon this aspect of communalisation of politics.
The apex court further prohibited appealing for votes by invocation of caste, creed, language and community. This implies that the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party that has been trying to woo Dalits and OBCs with an eye on the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections need to be careful in their respective campaigns. The Samajwadi Party that is known to blatantly favour Yadavs and appease Muslims will have to be circumspect, too. And if the region in and around Muzaffarnagar erupts again, the communaly oriented parties will have to watch out for the interventions of the Supreme Court as much as those of the EC.