Seeking Votes In The Name Of Religion Corrupt Practice: Apex Court

The Supreme Court of India in New Delhi on Sept 1, 2014. The government Monday told the Supreme Court that they stood by its verdict holding allocation of coal blocks since 1993 as illegal, and was ready to auction these blocks if they are cancelled but sought exceptions for some mines which were operational.. (Photo: IANS)

  • In a majority verdict, the Supreme Court on 2nd Jan’17 held that any appeal for votes on the grounds of “religion, race, caste, community or language” amounted to “corrupt practice” under the election law provision.
  • A seven judge constitution bench of the court headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur who retires tomorrow passed the ruling by a 4:3 majority. The bench was interpreting section 123(3) of the Representation of Peoples Act.
  • Justices D Y Chandrachud, A K Goel and U U Lalit dissented from the majority view.
  • On their part the dissenting judges said such an interference by the court almost amounted to judicial redrafting of law. They said prohibiting candidates from articulating issues effecting voters reduced democracy to an abstraction.

HISTORY

  • The matter had ended up with the seven judge bench as questions were raised on its 1995 verdict by a three judge bench which held that vote in name of “Hindutva/ Hinduism” did not prejudicially affect any candidate and since then three election petitions are pending on the subject before the apex court.
  • On February 2, 2014 a five-judge Constitution Bench comprising Justices R.M. Lodha, A.K. Patnaik, S.J. Mukhopadhaya, Dipak Misra and Ibrahim Kalilfulla, posted the issue for consideration by the seven-judge Bench, along with a reference of seven-judges of an appeal already made as early as in August 2002, pending adjudication.
  • The apex court’s three-judge bench in 1995 had held that Hindutva/Hinduism is a way of life of the people in the sub-continent and “is a state of mind.”
  • The judgment was delivered in the case of Manohar Joshi versus NB Patil which was authored by Justice JS Verma who found that statement by Joshi that “First Hindu State will be established in Maharashtra did not amount to appeal on ground of religion.”
  • The 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. In elections in Maharashtra after the 1992-93 Mumbai riots, Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi had promised to turn Maharashtra into India’s first Hindu State.
  • The Bombay High Court nullified Joshi’s election as by seeking vote in the name of religion he violated the constitutional commitment to secularism.
  • However, the former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma, heading a three-judge Bench of the apex court, overturned the High Court verdict.
  • Subsequently, the five-judge Bench also held that a candidate would not be guilty of a corrupt practice if he/she appealed to persons to vote or not to vote on grounds of religion as long as it was not his/her religion.
  • The issue was thus referred to a seven-judge Bench. Referring the matter to a seven judge bench, Justice Lodha had observed: “It is a matter relating to elections. Whether one can seek vote in the name of religion has to be considered by the larger Bench.” “Be that as it may, since one of the questions involved in the present appeal is already referred to a larger Bench Of seven Judges, we think it appropriate to refer this appeal to a limited extent regarding interpretation of sub-section (3) of Section 123 of the 1951 Act to a larger Bench of seven Judges.
  • “The Registry will place the matter before the Chief Justice for constitution of a Bench of seven Judges. The matter may be listed subject to the order of the Chief Justice,” the January 30 order said.
  • It said,”In the course of arguments, our attention has been invited to the order of this Court dated August 20, 2002 in Narayan Singh vs. Sunderlal Patwa 1. By this order, a Constitution Bench of five Judges has referred the question regarding the scope of corrupt practice mentioned in sub-section (3) of Section 123 of the 1951 Act to a larger Bench of seven Judges
  • ”This became necessary in view of the earlier decision of a Constitution Bench of this Court in Kultar Singh vs. Mukhtiar Singh,” the bench said.