In a historic verdict, a seven-judge panel of the Supreme Court ruled that politicians who use religion, caste, creed or language to gain votes will be immediately disqualified. In simple yet significant words the SC said, “The relationship between man and God is an individual choice. The state is forbidden to have allegiance to such an activity … Religion has no role in the electoral process, which is a secular activity … Mixing state with religion is not constitutionally permissible.”
The panel was headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur.
Four of the seven judges ruled in favour of the verdict. The opposition argued that the verdict amounted to “judicial redrafting of the law”. It also said that this move reduced “democracy to an abstraction” to prohibit people from articulating legitimate concerns. “No government is perfect. The law doesn’t prohibit dialogue or discussion of a matter which is a concern to the voters,” the dissenters said.
The 1995 Verdict:
Following a controversial Shiv Sena campaign for the Vile Parle Assembly seat in 1987, a petition was filed against the inflammatory language pursued in the campaign. Some of Bal Thackeray’s statements during the campaign included “We are fighting this election for the protection of Hinduism. Therefore, we do not care for the votes of the Muslims. This country belongs to Hindus and will remain so … Anybody who stands against the Hindus should be showed or worshipped with shoes.”
The Supreme Court in 1995 struck down the petitioner’s argument. 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.
In 2016, the Supreme Court refused to revisit the 1995 verdict, and said it would not define “Hindutva”. The Chief Justice admonished Parliament for not having done enough to protect elections from religious pandering. 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 … Religion and politics must not mix. Elections are a secular activity or not? In a secular state, can religion be brought into secular activities?”
The Logical Indian welcomes this move by the apex court. It is a milestone in the process of the advancement of India’s democracy and secularism. It will no doubt have long-terms effects on our politics. Its short-terms effects will primarily be centred around the upcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.