Group Discussion:

January 7, 2017

Supreme Court’s verdict on separation of politics from religion

The Supreme Court said that no politician can seek vote in the name of caste, creed, or religion

FOR

Terming religion a very private relationship between man and his God, a seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on January 2, in a 4:3 majority judgment, held that an appeal for votes during elections on the basis of religion, caste, race, community or language, even that of the electorate, will amount to a ‘corrupt practice’ and call for disqualification of the candidate.The majority view was shared by Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justices Bobde, Madan B. Lokur and L. Nageswara Rao, while the dissenting opinion was given by Justices A.K. Goel, D.Y. Chandrachud and U.U. Lalit.

At present, Section 123 (3) of the Representation of the People Act bars candidate or his agent from seeking votes in the name of religion.With the January 2ndruling, the apex court gave a wider meaning to the provision to include all forms of appeal in the name of religion whether it is by the candidate or his agent or leaders of the party or anyone else with or without the knowledge of the candidate.

The judgement will strengthen the core values of the Indian Constitution, secularism and democracy. Parties which do not have social, economic and political policies for voters resort to misuse the religion and caste for electoral benefits.

The ruling can potentially overturn the rules of the game for electoral politics in India, where traditionally parties have not hesitated to employ religion, caste and ethnicity to woo voters. Greater clarity will emerge once the Election Commission, which is to implement the decision, spells out the ground rules.

Politics based on caste, language, region or religion has harmed our nation very muchand damaged national integration.Vote bank politics should be curbed by this decision. This judgement may prove a landmark in nation-building.

AGAINST

Ideally, politicians should not seek votes based on religion or caste. However, the split verdict of the Supreme Court holding that any single appeal to religion would invalidate an election goes beyond this norm. All overlap between identity and politics is not always straightforward.

The dissenting view expressed by Justices Chandrachud, Goel and Lalit said “Religion, caste and language are as much a symbol of social discrimination imposed on large segments of our society. They are part of the central theme of the Constitution to produce a just social order. Electoral politics in a democratic polity is about social mobilisation”.

The Western concept of secularism originated in Europe when the separation of church and state had become a major concern. India has never had an organised church, so this concept was not really relevant to us. The term “sarva dharma sambhava (respect for all religions)” is a far more meaningful formulation for us. Religion, caste, community, creed, language are so intertwined in our daily lives that it’s unrealistic to expect politics to be free of them.

In most cultures, morality and ethics are embedded in the social code via religion. To prevent misuse of faith for political purposes, if one were to mandate total rejection of anything religious in politics, the result might well be politics denuded of morality and ethics.

The simple point is that fixing the problems of democracy cannot be achieved through court rulings. Politics has to fix its own problems, through dialogue if possible. The legislature, rather than the courts, should draw the line, if any line can at all be drawn, on the interface between religion and politics.It is a mistake to assume that ultimately our political parties want a level political playing field where all will compete on the basis of issues not identities. They do not. We were, and remain, a very religious people. And it’s no surprise that a political party will seek to endear itself to the electorate through religion as well as much as it does through promise of roti kapda makaan and elimination of kala dhan.

Our secularism is not about the absence of religion but the equal and non-preferential treatment of all religions.For citizens, the more pertinent question has always been whether the state ever discriminates between its citizens on the basis of religion or language or creed and whether the state protects life and liberty of all its citizens irrespective of religion or language or creed. (Credits: economictimes.com,telegraphindia.com, huffingtonpost.in, thehindu.com, indianexpress.com).