Tuesday, January 03, 2017

India Supreme Court Gives Broad Reading To Law Banning Religious Appeals To Voters

In Singh v. Commachen(Sup. Ct. India, Jan. 2, 2016), the Supreme Court of India in a 4-3 decision yesterday interpreted broadly Sec. 123(3) of the Representation of the People Act which prohibits appealing to voters on the basis of religion, race, caste, community or language.  Indian Express reports on the decision and its impact:

By a 4-3 majority ruling, a seven-judge Constitution Bench held that an election will be annulled not only if votes are sought in the name of the religion of the candidate but also when such an appeal hinges on religion of voters or candidate’s election agents or by anybody else with the consent of the candidate.
The third class will include religious and spiritual leaders, often engaged by candidates to mobilise their followers. The majority view interpreted Section 123(3) ... to mean that this provision was laid down with an intent “to clearly proscribe appeals based on sectarian, linguistic or caste considerations ... and send out the message that regardless of these distinctions, voters were free to choose the candidate best suited to represent them.”....
Meanwhile ... [three justices] dissented ..., holding that the expression “his” used [in the statute] in conjunction with religion, race, caste, community or language is in reference to the candidate, in whose favour the appeal to cast a vote is made, or that of a rival candidate when an appeal is made to refrain from voting for another.
“To hold that a person who seeks to contest an election is prohibited from speaking of the legitimate concerns of citizens that the injustices faced by them on the basis of traits having an origin in religion, race, caste, community or language would be remedied is to reduce democracy to an abstraction,” the minority judgment said.