Religious appeals as corrupt practice in RPA

What is the issue?
  • The seven-judge Constitution Bench of Supreme Court has questioned whether the practice of using the mass religious appeal by leaders to canvas votes for candidates amounts to a corrupt electoral practice.
  • The SC bench led by Chief Justice  is re-considering its 1995 verdict which had held that canvassing votes in name of ‘Hindutva/Hinduism’ wasn’t a corrupt electoral practice, as Hinduism was not a religion but a way of life in India.
  • This issue comes under Section 123 of Representation of the People Act. This provision says that if a candidate or his agent or any other person, with his consent, appeals for votes on religious or such grounds it would amount to a ‘corrupt practice’.
  • It was looking into the various means by which misuse of religion or faith of the masses for electoral gains can be categorised as a corrupt practice.
  • It was also looking into electoral practices of political parties and candidates to rope in clerics or priests to flex their religious sway over particular religious community to swing votes.
What 1995 verdict says?
  • The Representation of the People Act bars candidates and political parties to appeal in the name of religion. If found guilty for violation, the candidate can be disqualified.
  • The 1995 judgment delivered by Justice JS Verma had seeking votes in the name of Hinduism is not a “corrupt practice” under Section 123 of Representation of the People Act.
What is the latest verdict in this regard?
The Supreme Court in its latest verdict has held that election candidates cannot seek votes on the grounds of the religion, caste, creed, community or language of voters.
  • The state being secular in character will not identify itself with any one of the religions or religious denominations.
  • The relationship between man and God is an individual choice.
  • It implies that religion will not play any role in the governance of the country and state must at all times be secular in nature.
  • Election is a secular exercise, therefore this process should be followed and elected representatives must be secular in both outlook and practice to maintain this fabric.
  • The word ‘his’ only in Section 123 (3) of RPA means complete ban on any reference or appeal to religion, race, community, caste and language during elections.
  • It also extended to social, linguistic and religious identity of voter also.

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