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Seeking votes on religious basis a corrupt act: SC

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 ruling was given by a 4-3 majority of the seven-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur. It held that if the candidate is found violating the order will result into call for his disqualification.

Background

The apex court’s verdict came while it was hearing several petitions in the Hindutva case seeking interpretation of Section 123 (3) of the 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’. Earlier in the Hindutva case, SC had held that canvassing votes in name of ‘Hindutva/Hinduism’ was not a corrupt electoral practice, as Hinduism was not a religion but a way of life in India.

What SC verdict says? 
  • 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.
Significance

The ruling can potentially overturn the traditional rules of the game for electoral politics in India. Traditionally parties did not hesitate to employ religion, caste and ethnicity to woo voters. With this SC verdict, greater clarity will emerge once the Election Commission of India, implement this decision and spells out the electoral rules.

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SC asks whether mass religious appeals for electoral gains can be categorised corrupt practice

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 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.

Background

  • Recently, the Constitution Bench of SC raised question of using the mass appeal of religious while testing the limits of Section 123 of Representation of the People Act.
  • 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 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.

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