BJP states to SC: Religion part of society, can’t spell out dos and don’ts of poll manifestos

The CPI(M) also intervened in the matter. The state governments said the courts cannot pre-empt, define or spell out what can be permitted in an election manifesto.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Updated: October 28, 2016 10:46 am
Supreme Court, Jammu and Kashmir and news, Infant killed in Jammu and kashmir, latest news , india news, national news Supreme Court. (File Photo)

THREE BJP-ruled states told the Supreme Court on Thursday that “religion is not an anathema to the Constitution” but “a part of society”, so the courts should refrain from laying down any “straitjacket standard” on what an election manifesto can or cannot contain. Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, arguing for the state governments of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, submitted before a seven-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur that it was not possible to separate religion from society, and hence it was “impossible” for the courts to define yardsticks in this regard.

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“In a multi-religious country like India, due to its very uniqueness and diversity of religion, caste, community etc, ‘religion’ is not an anathema to the Constitution… Religion is a part of the society and can always be used in any sphere of society in the country, except to the extent prohibited under the Constitution or by any statutory provision,” he submitted.

The state governments said the courts cannot pre-empt, define or spell out what can be permitted in an election manifesto, adding that the Election Commission and the high courts are the competent authorities to look into the issue after the election is held. “It is, therefore, impossible to lay down any straitjacket standard as to what an election manifesto should contain or should not contain,” said Mehta. He said every case would have to be judged on its own merit, to see whether it was tantamount to “corrupt practice” as stipulated under the Representation of the People Act.

Contending that there was no occasion for the Constitution Bench to seek a re-interpretation of the terms “Hindutva” and “Hinduism”, Mehta said although the court was dwelling on an interpretation of the term

Religion part of society, courts can’t spell out dos & don’ts of poll manifestos: BJP states to SC “religion” under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, the same provision also stipulates that candidates should not appeal for votes on the grounds of community and language.

According to Mehta, since the provision uses the composite phrase “religion, caste, community, language” while defining “corrupt practice”, there can be no justification for treating one corrupt practice as more severe than the other, only because the expression “religion” comes into play.

He argued that the concept of “separation between the Church and the State” is not used to promote any particular religion, and hence, “there is no need to enlarge its scope”. The bench asked Mehta why the state governments were bothered about the use of religion and content of political speeches. Mehta said if NGOs and activists were being allowed to intervene in the matter, state governments definitely had a stake too.

Meanwhile, the Bench, which is hearing a clutch of petitions relating to use of religion in political speeches and manifestos, observed that it was perhaps not possible to chart out “dos and don’ts” of political speeches.

“We are not going into the permissibility of religion in political speeches. We cannot give an exhaustive listing of ‘you can say this and you cannot say that’ in political speeches,” said the bench, when senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for activist Teesta Setalvad, argued that a line must be drawn and religion should be kept out of politics.

The CPI(M) also intervened in the matter. Representing the party, senior advocate Sanjay Hegde submitted that the party believed in secularism and quoted its programme saying it was committed to waging an uncompromising struggle for the consistent implementation of the principles of secularism.

The bench, which heard various parties represented by senior lawyers including K K Venugopal, Arvind Datar, Shyam Divan, Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid and Indira Jaising for six days, reserved its verdict on conclusion of the arguments.

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  1. M
    Mathura
    Oct 28, 2016 at 2:34 pm
    State governments misusing tax payers money
    Reply
    1. M
      Mathura
      Oct 28, 2016 at 6:32 am
      The Oklahoma Supreme Court in US on July 3, 2015 ruled that the state must remove a 6-foot tall granite monument of the Ten Commandments from its capitol because it violates the state's consutional ban against the use of public funds or property to benefit a religion.lt;br/gt; Bruce Prescott, an ordained Baptist minister and one of the plaintiffs in the suit against the display, said, "I'm not opposed to Ten Commandments monuments. I'm just opposed to the placement on government property, because I think that the government needs to be neutral."lt;br/gt;Will Indian rulers presently ruling in the largest democracy learn lesson from strongest democracy in the world. State Govenments are using tax payers money to further BJP's agenda.
      Reply
      1. D
        Diplomat
        Oct 28, 2016 at 8:07 am
        Agreed on uniform civil code. It will remove inappropriate practices in all religions. But Govt should remain secular. These two are different points.
        Reply
        1. D
          Diplomat
          Oct 28, 2016 at 4:46 am
          As most of Indians are religious in nature (in their own religions and sub-religions), there are less takers and backers for the "secularism". Even though our consution seeks secular governance, practically we still mix up religion which is not good for a country. I mean here a real secularism in which govt and elected representatives do not obey any particular religion and act in fair manner for all citizens. Ministers do not go to any place of worship as a minister or any other official capacity. Religion remains in private domain. Vested interests are far too many who are game to playing religion card.
          Reply
          1. D
            Diplomat
            Oct 28, 2016 at 8:09 am
            Did you see any particular party being praised or blasted? I am apolitical and care more about secularism and social fabric of India.
            Reply
            1. A
              Anuradha Kalhan
              Oct 28, 2016 at 1:50 am
              Its for the people of India to decide what should be in a political parties manifesto!lt;br/gt;If the people want nonsense they should get it....at least that is what liberal democracy is all about it appears. And that is why education is such a low priority...so that people can accept nonsense and enjoy it.
              Reply
              1. A
                Avinash
                Oct 28, 2016 at 2:12 am
                Don't vote any party - if they do not promise to improve Govt schools and hospitals.lt;br/gt;God Ram and Allah and Christ does not come to teach and secure our life.
                Reply
                1. A
                  ah
                  Oct 28, 2016 at 3:45 am
                  India is heading for BAD DAYS, specially for the upper cl ...
                  Reply
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