The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has issued the following statement:
The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) welcomes the majority verdict of the seven-member Constitution bench of the Supreme Court which held that the electoral process is a secular activity and religion can have no place in such an activity. The judgement of the Bench was by a majority of four to three.
Chief Justice Thakur delivered a separate but concurring judgement which says: “…an interpretation that will have the effect of removing the religion or religious considerations from the secular character of the State or state activity ought to be preferred over an interpretation which may allow such considerations to enter, effect or influence such activities.”
The apex court was considering the interpretation of Section 123 (3) of the Representation of the People Act 1951. Chief Justice Thakur says: “The sum total of Section 123(3) even after the amendment (1961) is that an appeal in the name of religion, race, caste, community or language is forbidden even when the appeal may not be in the name of the religion, race, caste, community or language of the candidate for whom it has been made. So interpreted religion, race, caste, community or language would not be allowed to play any role in the electoral process and should an appeal be made on any of those considerations, the same would constitute a corrupt practice."
There is a thin line that differentiates an appeal made to the electorate on these considerations by anybody on behalf of a candidate and on raising issues of injustices and discrimination emanating from these factors of religion, caste or language, which will arise in the debate in an electoral process.
The dissenting judges held that though the Indian State is secular in character, the Constitution is not indifferent to issues of religion, caste or language. They say: “The Constitution is not oblivious to the history of discrimination against and the deprivation inflicted upon large segments of population based on religion, caste and language. Religion, caste and language are as much as a symbol of social discrimination imposed on large segments of our society on the basis of immutable characteristics as they are of a social mobilization to answer centuries of injustices. They are part of the central theme of Constitution to produce a just social order.”
It is necessary to clarify the difference between making an appeal on any of these elements for electoral gain or the defeat of an opponent candidate and the raising of issues of social discrimination and injustices. The latter are essential elements of any electoral discourse for attaining social justice and cannot be prohibited.
The clarity on this is essential for strengthening the secular democratic foundations of the Constitution and the electoral process.