INDIA’S Supreme Court ruled on Monday that no politician can seek votes in the name of religion, cast or creed in a landmark judgment that could change the way political parties work in India.
According to the Economic Times, the seven-judge bench ruled by a 4:3 majority that elections are secular and the relationship between a person and whomever he or she worships is an individual choice, therefore the state is forbidden to interfere in such an activity.
— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) January 2, 2017
The court also gave a wider meaning to Section 123 of the Representation of People Act to stamp out the use of religion and community affiliation from elections.
The business newspaper explained that the court’s verdict comes after it heard several petitions from various petitioners and respondents in the Hindutva case in 1995. Judges had ruled in that case that a mere reference to Hindutva or Hinduism was not a corrupt practice because Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life.
The Economic Times added that the election law bars an appeal in the name of religion and if a candidate was found guilty he or she can be disqualified. However, the question before the bench in 1995 was whether the use of terms such as Hindutva or Hinduism would amount to such practice.
Many have taken to Twitter using to voice their thoughts on the move using #PollsWithoutReligion, many lauding the court’s decision for secularism in the multi-religious country.
— Ashoke Pandit (@ashokepandit) January 2, 2017
— ਅਮੁ ਵਿਰਕ (@virkamu) January 2, 2017
Religion and the caste system has on many occasions been central to Indian elections where most parties select candidates based on their religion or caste. As such some question as to how the court’s ruling will affect India’s political landscape.
— Vikram Waman Karve (@vikramwkarve) January 2, 2017
The ruling comes ahead of crucial assembly polls in five states, namely Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa and especially Uttar Pradesh (UP) which is the biggest state in India with 403 assembly seats and where religion is expected to play a big role in campaigning.
According to The Wire India, The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has in the past expressed a commitment to Hindutva and has used Hindu nationalism as a platform for many of the party’s positions, is committed to winning UP.
Observers say this raises the question on whether the BJP as well as other parties contesting in the upcoming elections would abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling barring politician can seek votes in the name of religion, cast or creed.