The Supreme Court verdict dated January 2, 2017 over the misuse of religion, race, caste, community or language for the contestants in the election will not only improve the electoral system of the country but also the quality of our political life
Sanjay Kumar Visen
The Supreme Court of India has recently in Abhiram Singh’s Case (2017) dealt with an issue and concern affecting the electoral process and its integrity. The Hon’ble Court has barred the misuse of religion, race, caste, community or language for the contestants in the elections. It has underlined the gravity of the deeper malaise in the electoral process and has mandated to stem the rot by invoking the available legal remedies.
The Constituent Assembly had clear understanding of multi-lingual and religious identities of the people of the country which is very much reflective in the preamble of our Constitution as ‘Sovereign Democratic Republic’. Later on vide the Forty-second Amendment of Our Constitution the ‘Socialist Secular’ words and concepts were given effect to from January 3, 1977 and the Preamble now reads as ‘Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic’.
Our Constitution stands for a secular state. It has no official religion and the Constitution not only guarantees a person’s freedom of religion and conscience, but also ensures freedom for one who has no religion and it restrains the state from making any discrimination on grounds of religion. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has also declared in the year 1994 that Secularism is a basic feature of the Constitution and has maintained the same through subsequent judgments with the passage of time.
However during the last 70 years of electoral process, the Country has witnessed the widespread misuse of religion, race, caste, community and language by the candidates contesting elections. This malaise in the electoral process has eroded the credibility in the free and fair electoral system. The people at large developed apathy towards the same. The recent Constitution Bench majority judgment in Abhiram’s Case (2017) is relevant as it declares the law that seeking votes in the name of religion, caste, race, community or language by a candidate contesting the election, his agent or anyone with his consent would be a corrupt electoral practice rendering the person open to disqualification. The bare reading of the said judgment goes to uphold and fortifies that now the future law makers of the country also cannot misuse the name of religion, caste, race, community or language and are duty bound to maintain the secular and plural character of the state.
Going to the roots of this declaration by the majority judgment of Hon’ble Supreme Court it is seen that the amendment of the Section 123(3) of the Representation of the People Act,1951 deleted the word “systematic” before the word appeal. The effect of this is that even a single 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 for the furtherance of the prospects of the election of that candidate or for prejudicially affecting the election of any candidate would be deemed to be a corrupt practice for the purpose of the said Act. This amendment and now the declaration will surely curb the sectarian interests or passion, communal or linguistic affiliation of the candidate. The majority decision in this judgment interpreted the law by also relying on the words of Justice HR Khanna in the year 1974 that says, “As in life so in law things are not static. Fresh vistas and horizons may reveal themselves as a result of the impact of new ideas and developments in different fields of life. Law, if it has to satisfy human needs and to meet the problems of life, must adapt itself to cope with new situations. Nobody is so gifted with foresight that he can divine all possible human events in advance and prescribe proper rules for each of them. There are, however certain verities which are of the essence of the rule of law and no law can afford to do away with them. At the same time it has to be recognised that there is a continuing process of the growth of law and one can retard it only at the risk of alienating law from life itself…” The majority also took note of the view reaffirmed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in 2014 for the need to shape law as per the changing needs of the times and circumstances.
However, this laudable judgment leaves some areas where one can doubt about its full fledge applicability, as many parties in India seek votes in the name of religion, caste and language. Is the judgment enough to stop the corrupt practices of political parties? The silence is also there on the question when any religious leader or a linguistic leader appeals to voters to support a candidate without the consent of the candidate in the elections. As held, it is matter of evidence for determining whether an appeal has at all been made to an elector and whether the appeal if made amounts to corrupt practice will be difficult to prove in a time bound manner and will give rise to many election petitions before the courts. This judgment has empowered the people of the country to come forward with their conviction before the Hon’ble Courts wherever candidates contesting the elections violate the provisions of law governing the electoral process of the country. It will have far reaching consequences in cleaning electoral process and restoring its original fairness and purity. No candidates would dare to indulge in misusing the religious, regional and linguistic sentiments of the people for their electoral gains. By this pronouncement, the secularism the very spirit of our Constitution and aspirations of the people of the country shall be a reality and will improve not only the electoral system of the country but also the quality of our political life.
(The writer is Advocate-On-Record, Supreme Court)