Politicians Can't Use Religion, Caste to Seek Votes, Rules Supreme Court

The landmark judgment came while the court revisited a judgment from 1995 that called Hinduism a “way of life”.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that politicians cannot seek votes on the grounds of caste, creed or religion.

The landmark judgment came while the court revisited earlier judgments, including one from 1995 that equated Hindutva with Hinduism and called it a “way of life” and said a candidate was not necessarily violating the law if votes were sought on this plank.

Several petitions filed over the years have challenged the consequences of that verdict. “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 … (Hindutva and Hinduism) are used in a speech to emphasise the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian cultural ethos,” the 1995 judgment authored by Justice J.S. Verma had said.

In its decision on Monday, a seven-judge constitution bench of the court ruled that the relationship between man and God is an ‘individual choice’ and the state cannot interfere in it, Economic Times reported. It added that an election is a secular exercise, and that should be reflected in the process that is followed.

Four judges of the seven-judge bench headed by Chief Justice T.S. Thakur (who retires on Tuesday) ruled that “the constitution forbids state from mixing religion with politics”, Livemint reported. While Thakur and justices Madan B. Lokur, S.A. Bobde, and L. Nageswara Rao formed the majority and hence gave the ruling, the other three judges – Adarsh Kumar Goel, U.U. Lalit and D.Y. Chandrachud – dissented and said that the matter must be left to parliament.

The three dissenting judges said such a decision amounted to the “judicial redrafting of the law” and that prohibiting people from articulating legitimate concerns reduced “democracy to an abstraction”. “No government is perfect. The law doesn’t prohibit dialogue or discussion of a matter which is concern to the voters,” Hindustan Times quoted them as saying.

The question before the court was whether seeking votes on the grounds of religion is corrupt under the Representation of the People Act and whether candidates indulging in this should be disqualified.