SC not to hear Govt view on religion misuse

The Supreme Court began debating the issue of whether appealing for votes in the name of religion amounted to corrupt practice under India’s election laws, but decided for now against hearing the government’s views on the matter.
Aseven-judge bench is trying to clear the legal air over the issue after conflicting judgements by different benches of the top court. The bench, led by Chief Justice TS Thakur, politely declined a request by Additional Solicitor Tushar Mehta on Tuesday to seek the attorney general’s assistance in the matter. There’s no need for this at this juncture, he said, pointing out that these were primarily election petitions between rival candidates.
The issue was referred to the Constitution bench after a threejudge bench headed by former CJI JS Verma in 1995 ruled that a mere reference to Hindutva or Hinduism wasn’t a corrupt practice, as Hinduism was not a religion but a way of life in India.
Another threejudge bench within months disagreed and referred the matter to a five-judge bench.
It is coming up for hearing after years due to the court’s clogged calendar, and interestingly ahead of assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh where religion is expected to play a big role in canvassing for votes.
The election law bars an appeal in the name of religion. If found guilty a candidate can be disqualified. But the question before the bench in 1995 was whether the use of terms such as Hindutva or Hinduism per se would amount to such practice.
The top court had then cleared nine top BJP leaders of the charge of appealing for votes in the name of religion. The bench now hearing the matter comprises the CJI as well as justices Madan B Lokur, SA Bobde, Adarsh Kumar Goel, UU Lalit, DY Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao.
On day one of the deliberations, the CJI asked some searching questions to senior advocate Arvind Datar, who was appearing for some candidates facing the charge.
The bench wondered if a person belonging to one community sought votes from members of his community for a candidate belonging to another community, would that also come under the ambit of the
election law.

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