The recent judgment of Supreme Court regarding boarder interpretation of Section 123 (3) of Representation of People’s Act (RPA) is laudable. This verdict of the Apex court, which has declared any mobilization for electoral purpose in the name of religion, race, caste, community, or language as a “corrupt practice” is definitely progressive and extraordinary. Nonetheless the detractors and critics have raised some of the valid issues regarding the mismatch of the Act with the ground realties of the Indian society which also cannot be ignored.

Section 123 (3) of RPA and the recent verdict

Section 123 of the RPA exclusively deals with the corrupt practices in the elections. Section 123 (3) of RPA declares divisive and emotional appeal on the grounds of religion, race, caste, community, or language as a corrupt practice. The recent verdict of the Apex court has further amplified the purview of this Section, making it more vibrant and dynamic.

Do you know?
Sec 123 (3) of RPA
:
The promotion of, or attempt to promote, feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of the citizens of India on grounds of religion, race, caste, community, or language, by a candidate or his agent or any other person with the consent of a candidate or his election agent for the furtherance of the prospects of the election of that candidate or for prejudicially affecting the election of any candidate.
   This shall be deemed to be corrupt practices for the purposes of this RPA 1951.

Recently a seven-judge bench of Supreme Court, in a majority judgment of 4:3 in Abhiram Singh v C. D. Commachen, held that an appeal for votes during elections on the basis of religion, caste, race, community, or language, even that of the electorate, will amount to a "corrupt practice" and call for disqualification of the candidate. The question which was referred to seven judge constitutional bench was whether the use of word "his" in Sec 123 (3) of RPA only meant a bar on appeals made in the name of the candidate or his rival or his agent, or, does the word also extends to appeal voters on the basis of the religion, caste, community, race, language of the electorate as a whole. In simple words the question against which the Apex court gave the judgment is weather the “corrupt practices” as defined by Article 123 (3) was limited to only the religion of the candidate and his agent or to the religion of the voters in general. The Court held that the word “his” in Section 123(3) was to be understood broadly, referring to both the speaker as well as the audience. In effect, it prohibited appeals on several “grounds” (religion, caste etc) during the electoral process.

Hitherto, as per the Section 123 (3) of RPA any attempt to promote, feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of the citizens of India on grounds of religion, race, caste, community, or language was considered corrupt. Henceforth, any kind of appeal for electoral purposes on the grounds of religion, race, caste, community, or language shall be considered as a corrupt practice.

Implication of judgment

If electoral mobilization in the name of primordial identities like caste, religion, race, community and language will receive a setback by this verdict, there is a high probability that this void shall be filled by the developmental issues making democracy mature, inclusive, responsive and dynamic. Moreover, appeal for votes on ground mentioned under corrupt practices attracting disqualification will not only stop candidates from involvement in these practices but will also stop political parties in overt and loud preaching of such divisive tendencies. The Apex Court has thus tried to uphold the moral responsibility of making the democratic setup of this country free from evils of divisive and regressive rhetoric.

The pitfalls

The judgment no doubt in the first look seems to be laudable and progressive, however have some pitfalls and grey areas.

  • History being ignored

Since centuries there are various social groups which have been institutionally made vulnerable and kept marginalized due to vested interests in the name of caste and religion. For inclusive growth and national integration, the empowerment and mainstreaming of these groups is quintessential. This significant mission cannot be accomplished by completely separating politics from religion, caste etc. and keeping these variables and away from electoral politics. Interestingly, Dr. B.R. Ambedker who was a key actor in the draft of RPA was the founder of All India Scheduled Caste Federation, a political party whose main aim was emancipation of dalits.

  • Mismatch with ground realities

Nearly all the political parties have welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court. However, it’s a well-known fact that right from the time of selecting the candidates for elections the caste and religion dynamics play a paramount role. There are certain political parties like AIMM, Telegu Desum Party, Akali Dal etc. which are based on some of the identities which this judgment have envisaged to disband during the elections. Moreover, some of the most vociferous political mobilizations in the recent past like Patidar movement in Gujarat, Jat agitation in Haryana etc. were based on some of these identities only. If these identities make an appeal to the people in one form or the other, the political parties would find innovative ways to dilute the impact of the judgment.

  • Against the tenet of freedom of speech

The judgment infringes with the Freedom of expression as enshrined in the Article 19 of the Indian constitution.

  • Issues with implementation

What will constitute an electoral appeal on the “grounds” (religion, caste etc.) during the electoral process? Who shall check and report these corrupt practices? Does election commission has sufficient power and teeth to deal with this new provision or fast track courts need to be designed for this task? These are some of the relevant questions that are still unanswered. Also there is a high chance that election commission gets flooded with forged litigations driven by political motives in this context.

Conclusion

Elections in India have evolved from being a political act to the part of life. Even the most stringent law would be incapable to separate religion, caste, language etc. from the political discourses. This is only possible when the political parties driven by the ethics and values voluntarily discard these practices and at the same time the voters become so well informed that these primordial identities become redundant and irrelevant for them.

 

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