In a far reaching development, the Supreme Court on Monday held that any appeal for votes on the ground of “religion, race, caste, community or language” amounted to “corrupt practice” under the election law provision.
In a split verdict, the majority 4-3 ruled in the favour of denouncing the contention as “corrupt practice”. The matter was heard by a 7-judge bench comprising Chief Justice TS Thakur and justices MB Lokur, SA Bobde, AK Goel, UU Lalit, DY Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao.
Referring to the term ‘his religion’ used in section 123(3) of the Representation of The Peoples (RP) Act, which deals with ‘corrupt practice’, Chief Justice Thakur and three others – justices MB Lokur, SA Bobde and L Nageswara Rao — said it meant the religion and caste of all including voters, candidates and their agents etc.
However, the minority view of three judges – UU Lalit, AK Goel and DY Chandrachud – held that the term ‘his’ religion means religion of candidate only.
The majority view, in its pronouncement, also said ‘secularism” has to be considered while dealing with such issues.
The Supreme Court was revisiting its two-decade-old judgement on electoral law categorising misuse of religion for electoral gains as “corrupt practice”. In 1995, a three-judge bench of the top court had pronounced that vote in name of “Hindutva/Hinduism” did not prejudicially affect any candidate.
The verdict was, however, challenged through three separate election petitions. Conducting hearing on the batch of petitions, the court had in February 2014 decided to refer the matter to a larger bench comprising seven judges.
In the original judgement, delivered in the case of Manohar Joshi (Shiv Sena leader) versus NB Patil, Justice JS Verma had found that statement by Joshi that “first Hindu State will be established in Maharashtra did not amount to appeal on ground of religion”.
That observation was made while dealing with the question regarding the scope of corrupt practices mentioned in sub-section (3) of Section 123 of the 1951 Representation of People Act.
The issue for interpretation of sub-section (3) of Section 123 of the Act once again had come on January 30, 2014 before a five-judge bench which had also referred it for examination before a larger bench of seven judges.
(With inputs from the PTI)