The Election Commission recently told the Supreme Court that “there is no express provision which bars associations with religious connotations to register as political parties under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act-1951”.
What is the plea that the SC is hearing? What is the rule for political parties’ symbols? We explain.
What is the issue?
The Election Commission of India (ECI) was asked by the Supreme Court to submit its response by November 25 to a petition seeking cancellation of political parties having religious symbols and names.
The petitioner, Syed Waseem Rizwi, argued that such names and symbols violated the Constitution and that the EC should cancel their registration. Rizwi cited the Indian Union Muslim League, the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, the Hindu Ekta Party, the Christian Democratic Front, the Indian Christian Secular Party and the Sehajdari Sikh Party as examples. While seeking the EC’s response during a hearing on November 14, the apex court had termed it a “very important matter”.
What has the ECI said?
In its affidavit submitted on November 25, the ECI said there was no express provision that barred associations with religious connotations from registering as political parties under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. A Bill to amend the RP Act, 1951 to ban any association with names bearing religious connotations from registering as a political party was introduced in 1994, but it was not passed and lapsed when the Lok Sabha was dissolved in 1996.
Also, the EC generally does not have the power to deregister political parties, something which it has proposed as an electoral reform to the government many times.
While there are some parties with religious connotations in their names, it is a “legacy” issue as the ECI said it had taken a policy decision in 2005 to not register parties with such names.
On the issue of symbols, the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 bars parties from having symbols with religious or communal connotations. While hearing the dispute between the two factions of the Shiv Sena in October, the ECI denied both of them the use of the ‘trishul’ (trident) symbol” due to its religious connotations.
Political parties, however, are bound to abide by the principle of secularism as one of the requisites for registration with the EC under the RP Act, 1951. The ECI also pointed out that the Delhi High Court had dismissed a similar petition in 2016 after taking cognisance of the poll panel’s policy decisions. Another petition on the same subject is pending with the Delhi High Court as of now.
Is there a list of such parties?
It is not clear how many of the political parties registered with the ECI would be considered to have religious connotations in their names, mainly because it was subject to interpretation, sources said. The same word may hold different meanings to different people, making it difficult to narrow down on the definitions acceptable to all.
In its affidavit, the ECI said the names of parties with religious connotations that have been in use for decades are legacy issues and whether they should continue was left up to the wisdom of the Court.
What is the status of the matter?
After the ECI submitted its affidavit on November 25, the matter has now been listed for January 31, 2023.