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Seeking votes in name of religion is `corrupt practice`, says SC

New Delhi: In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court on Monday said no one can seek vote in the name of caste, creed, religion, community or language.

Religion can have no role in electoral process, the seven-judge Constitution bench said.

The apex court added that election was a secular exercise and thereby its way and process should be followed.

In a marked departure from the view held in the 1995 “Hindutva” judgement that the term ‘his’ used in section 123 (3)of the Representation of the People Act meant the religion, caste, etc of candidates only, a seven-judge bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur, by a majority of 4:3, held today that any appeal for votes on these grounds would amount to “corrupt practice”.

The court held that the provisions of the RP Act, which say that seeking vote by a candidate in the name of “his” religion, caste, race, religion and language in the election law, included candidates, his agents and voters also.

“An appeal in the name of religion, race, caste, community or language is impermissible under the R P Act, 1951 and would constitute a corrupt practice sufficient to annul the election in which such an appeal was made regardless whether the appeal was in the name of the candidate’s religion or the religion of the election agent or that of the opponent or that of the voter’s,” the CJI, who concurred with majority verdict written by Justice MB Lokur, said.

“So read together, and for maintaining the purity of the electoral process and not vitiating it, sub-section (3) of Section 123 of the RP Act must be given a broad and purposive interpretation thereby bringing within the sweep of a corrupt practice any appeal made to an elector by a candidate or his agent or by any other person with the consent of a candidate or his election agent to vote or refrain from voting for the furtherance of the prospects of the election of that candidate or for prejudicially affecting the election of any candidate on the ground of the religion, race, caste, community or language of (i) any candidate or (ii) his agent or (iii) any other person making the appeal with the consent of the candidate or (iv) the elector,” said the majority view, also shared by Justices SA Bobde and L Nageswara Rao, said.

Justice Chandrachud, writing the minority verdict. “we hold that there is no necessity for this court to take a view at variance with what has been laid down. The ‘his’ in Section 123(3) does not refer to religion, race, caste, community or language of the voter. ‘His’ is to be read as referring to the religion, race, caste, community or language of the candidate in whose favour a vote is sought or that of another candidate against whom there is an appeal to refrain from voting.” 

The verdict came on a batch of petitions including the one filed by Abhiram Singh whose election as an MLA in 1990 on BJP ticket from Santacruz Assembly seat in Mumbai was set aside by the Bombay High Court.

Justice Lokur, writing for the majority, considered “simultaneous and contemporaneous amendments” made in the election law and insertion of Section 153A (promoting enmity in different groups) in the IPC to highlight the intention of the legislation that it wanted to curb use of religion, castes etc in election and otherwise.

(With PTI inputs)

Source: Zee News