In a majority verdict on Monday, the Supreme Court held that any appeal for votes on ground of religion amounted to corrupt practices under electoral laws.
According to PTI, majority view held the term ‘His’ used in provisions of election law is all encompassing and means religion of candidates, voters, agents etc.
The minority view, however, held that the term ‘his’ used in election law, meant the candidate only.
According to news agency IANS, a constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India Justice T.S. Thakur by a 4:3 majority passed the order on the basis of Section 123(3) of the Representation of People’s Act.
The dissenting judgment was delivered by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit.
The apex court had on 27 October reserved its verdict on the “width and scope” of an electoral law provision dealing with the issue whether seeking votes or asking electors not to vote on the ground of “religion, race, caste, community or language”, amounted to “corrupt practice”.
It has been interpreted in an earlier verdict that the term ‘his religion’, used in section 123(3) of the RP Act which deals with ‘corrupt practice’, meant the faith of the candidates only.
Section 123(3) of the RP Act, which is being scrutinised, reads: “The appeal 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 any person on the ground of his religion, race, caste, community or language or the use of, or appeal to religious symbols or the use of, or appeal to, national symbols…, for furtherance of the prospects of the election of that candidate or for prejudicially affecting the election of any candidate” would amount to corrupt practices.
The bench had said there is freedom to “practice and propagate” the religion, but asked “can it (religion) be used for electoral purposes”.
The bench was hearing 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.
The apex court in February 2014 had tagged Abhiram Singh’s petition with others in which the five judge bench had decided in 2002 to re-visit its 20-year old ‘Hindutva’ judgement for an authoritative pronouncement on electoral laws by a seven-judge bench.
The issue of interpretation of section 123(3) arose on 30 January, 2014 before a five-judge which referred it for examination before a larger bench of seven judges.
A three-judge bench on April 16, 1992 had referred to a five-judge Constitution bench Singh’s appeal in which the same question and interpretation of Section 123(3) was raised.
While the five-judge bench was hearing this matter on 30 January, 2014, it was informed that an identical issue was raised in an election petition filed by Narayan Singh against BJP leader Sunderlal Patwa. Another Constitution Bench of five judges of the apex court had referred it to a larger bench of seven judges.
Thereafter, the five-judge bench had referred Singh’s matter also to the Chief Justice for placing it before a seven-judge bench.