October 21st, 2016
The Supreme Court on Thursday court took a dig at the parliament saying that it has done nothing to ensure that religion is not misused during elections. It also said that seeking votes in the name of religion would affect the concept of elections in our democracy and hence, religion should be separated from the political process.
A seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) T.S. Thakur is re-hearing the ‘Hindutva’ verdict of 1995 by former CJI JS Verma, in which it was held that Hinduism was a way of life and not just a religion and that there was no bar on the use of words like Hindutva or Hinduism, or the demand for a Hindu state in an election campaign. Doing so would not amount to seeking votes in the name of religion – which is prohibited under section 123 (3) of the Representation of the People Act, the court had ruled.
On Thursday, Shyam Divan, the counsel appearing for former lawmaker and BJP leader Sunderlal Patwa, argued that the 1995 verdict must be accepted by the seven-judge Bench and it was for the Parliament to change the law.
The CJI questioned that if the parliament had not done anything, then why couldn’t the court make any appeal for votes on the grounds of religion an electoral offence. The bench observed that the “right to contest is a statutory right. Secularism is a basic feature. Can we give an interpretation that does not further the cause of secularism.”
Though the counsel argued that a change of the earlier ruling will draw unintended consequence on the poll process, which should be left to the parliament. However, the Justice Thakur said that it would imply leaders such as Sunderlal Patwa, a Jain, or his campaigners, could appeal for votes in the name of the Ram temple.
“Let us take the case of Sunderlal Patwa. He belongs to the Jain community. But some person acting on behalf of him makes an appeal that Patwa, though a Jain, will help in making the Ram mandir. The appeal is in the name of religion… not a candidate. It is not an appeal to vote in the name of religion. The very purpose of the legislation is to ensure that religion should be separated from the political process,”the CJI added.
Justice Thakur observed that the essence, the ethos of our constitutional system is secularism… religion and politics must’t mix. Elections are a secular activity or not? In a secular state, can religion be brought into secular activities?”
In the meanwhile, social activist Teesta Setalvad and a few others have appealed to the Supreme Court to reverse the 20-year-old “Hindutva”verdict to stop political parties from espousing religious sentiments under the claim that ‘Hindutva’ was not a religion, but a way of life, the practice that has continued for the last two decades. The petitions said that such rulings have harboured a deep feeling of insecurity for minorities, freethinkers, atheists and those who uphold the Constitutional ideal of an India meant for all.
The Logical Indian take
Religions play an important factor in vote politics of the country. Sometimes, Hindus are lured to vote particular party to uphold the Hindu sentiment. Whereas, minorities are also asked to vote a party who promises to particularly take their case. Election is the biggest testament of democracy and it should be free from religious sentiments. Therefore, The Logical Indian appreciates CJI Thakur’s questioning of the existing rules, although it comes a bit late. Election should mean development for all, not for a particular religion.
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