Friday 28 October 2016

Secularism not aloofness to religion: Supreme Court

NEW DELHI: Amid a high-voltage legal debate on curbing use of religion to seek votes, the Supreme Court asked on Thursday whether secularism meant complete separation of politics from religion and said it would attempt to give a pragmatic interpretation of the law dealing with using religion and caste to promote hatred during elections. “It will be difficult to accept as a proposition that a political party
should have nothing to do with religion and those who have something to do with it must cease to be political parties. Can a particular political party not say it would assuage the hurt sentiments of a religious group? Will that amount to seeking votes in the name of religion?“ a seven-judge constitution bench of Chief Justice T S Thakur and Justices Madan B Lokur, S A Bobde, Adarsh K Goel, U U Lalit, D Y Chandrachud and L N Rao asked.

“Secularism does not mean aloofness to religion but gi ving equal treatment to every religion. Religion and caste are vital aspects of our public life. Can it be possible to completely separate religion and caste from politics?“ it asked.

The SC bench reserved its verdict on the mode and manner in which a court should try an electoral malpractice committed to seek votes using religion, community , caste or language. The SC is also examining how to deal with a religious leader appealing to people to vote in a particular way .

The court's remark on what constituted secularism came when senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for social activist Teesta Setalvad, argued that the SC should lay down guidelines on what would constitute a permissible speech during elections. When the debate got lively , the CJI-headed bench veered away by declaring that the task before it was not to answer or lay down guidelines on what would be a permissible speech. “We will answer the reference for interpretation of Section 123 as well as the interplay between Sections 98 and 99 of Representation of the People Act and nothing more,“ it said.

Appearing for former MP CM Sunderlal Patwa, senior advocate Shyam Divan laid bare the thin dividing line between religion, language, caste and politics in India. He read out from the constituent charter of Shiromani Akali Dal and Indian Union Muslim League to show that these parties explicitly said their basis was to further the interest of a particular religious group.

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