Supreme Court bars candidates using religion, caste to seek votes

Supreme Court bars candidates using religion, caste to seek votes

NEW DELHI: In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court on Monday barred seeking votes in the name of religion, caste, race, community or language by a candidate, his agent or anyone with his consent. It would be considered a corrupt electoral practice rendering the person open to disqualification.
The order, which some political and official sources felt would be of limited utility in a country teeming with parties appealing to regional, caste-based and community identities, widened the scope of Section 123(3) of the Representation of the People Act in order to “maintain the purity of the electoral process”.
In addition, the apex court sought to deal a body blow to communal politics by ruling a candidate could be disqualified if an appeal is made by any religious leader to his community to vote for him if it is established that such an appeal was made with the consent of the candidate. The existing provision under Section 123(3) provides for disqualification if a candidate or his agent or anyone who appeals to voters in the name of the candidate’s religion, caste, race, language or community.

In 1961, its ambit was sought to be widened by striking off words like “systematic appeal” — in the name of religion, caste, community or language”: a caveat which, many felt, blunted its effectiveness. In the event, however, the change also failed to realise the avowed objective because its application was restricted only to the candidate who sought votes on the strength of “his” religion, caste, race, language or community.

The widely perceived lacuna has been addressed by the seven-judge Constitution bench by a four to three majority, banning candidates from seeking votes in the name of religion, language, caste and community irrespective of whether he highlights his own identity or that of his rival.

This means, a Hindu candidate would be disqualified if he, his agent or anyone with his or his agent’s consent appealed to voters not to vote for his opponent because he is a Muslim or Christian and vice-versa. An offence would be deemed to be committed even if such an appeal is made not by the candidate himself or an agent in case it is established that the person making the pitch had acted with the consent of the aspirant. However, establishing the consent of the candidate could prove a challenging task, felt EC officials, even as they pointed out that usual time consumed by a disqualification petition meant that such cases could linger without curtailing a legislator’s term.