Supreme Court questions use of deaths on border to seek votes for a particular party

The Supreme Court today asked whether anyone will raise the problem of deaths along the border and seek votes for a selected party.

The question was among many raised during a day-long hearing to revisit its two-decade-old ‘Hindutva’ judgement.

A seven-judge Constitution bench headed by chief justice T S Thakur said no one will be allowed to use them to garner votes in the elections, Referring to the terms “national symbols” and “national emblem” in section 123(3) of the representation of the people (RP) Act.

Asked the bench, “Anybody will seek votes on the ground of flag and national emblem and say that people are dying on the borders and then vote for a selected party will it be permitted,”

Senior advocate Shyam Divan said, “This is specifically proscribed under this provision.”

The hearing also saw the bench observing that Parliament has consciously “widened” the scope of the term “corrupt practices” in the poll law to curb “separatist and communal” tendencies.

The bench, that also comprised justices Madan B Lokur, A K Goel, S A Bobde, U U Lalit, L Nageswara Rao and D Y Chandrachud, said, “What is most important in the (of the RP Act) present clause is that Parliament thought to widening the scope of ‘corrupt practices’ to curb separatist and communal tendencies during elections.”

The bench then raised a hypothetical question and asked if a ‘Sikh granthi’ seeks votes for a selected Hindu candidate, it will be said that this appeal “falls foul” of the provision in question.

Divan responded, It may not amount to “corrupt practice” under the particular section of the RP Act.

He also said that the term “his religion”, used in the provision, means religion of the candidate and not that of the leader or cleric who seek votes.

Meanwhile, 3 social activists — Shamsul Islam, Teesta Setalvad and Dilip Mandal — filed an application to intervene in the ongoing hearing to seek “de-linking of religion from politics”.

The court is examining the “scope and width” of section 123(3) of the RP Act that deals with electoral malpractices amounting to “corrupt practices”, among other things.

The problem could “potentially have far-reaching consequences on the purity of the electoral process”, The recent plea, filed by Setalvad and others, said.

The applicants are concerned regarding the electorate, the electoral process and the need to ensure that political parties and candidates for election don’t use religion to appeal for votes.

“The candidates are of the considered view that the interpretation given to Section 123(3) and (3A) of the representation of the people Act,…has had the impact of encouraging political parties to use religious appeals for garnering votes under the colour of the proposition that ‘Hindutva’ isn’t a religion but a ‘way of life’.”

Yesterday, the apex court asked whether non-contesting religious leaders or clerics is held accountable for “corrupt practices” under electoral law for asking voters to vote for a particular party or candidate.

It had asked “How will a person, who himself has neither contested nor returned as a winning candidate, be tried for allegedly resorting to corrupt practices under the representation of the individuals (RP) Act.”

If the other person, like late Pramod Mahajan and late Bal Thackeray in the present case, referred to in the RP Act, sought votes on these grounds, then there has to be the “consent” of the candidate, he told the bench, that also comprised.