India court rules elections must be secular

The Supreme Court of India on Monday ruled the use of religion and caste in seeking votes or in other political activities is illegal. The ruling, a 4:3 split decision comes in the background of upcoming state elections in regions where religion and caste often leads to a decisive outcome for those aligned with the majority of the population. The court ruling stated “Religion has no role in electoral process which is a secular activity. Mixing state with religion is not constitutionally permissible.”

The Supreme Court decision was received with varied responses from citizens and politicians, seeing that most of the political parties in India choose candidates for the various electoral posts based on their caste and religious orientation. The court further went on to state that any election won by asking for votes following this kind of identity politics stood the chance of being declared corrupt and the results set aside for fresh elections.

Ashok Malik, a fellow at the Delhi based Observer Research Foundation remarked, “If this judgment is taken literally, then pretty much every party in India would be disqualified.” He went on to comment that, “Identity is intrinsic to human society and there is political mobilization all over the world that takes place along these lines. You can’t ban identity…A sweeping ban on the use of identity for political mobilization is going to be unimplementable.”

PV Dinesh, an advocate of the Supreme Court expressed his view thus, “If an election takes place today, and you’re questioning whether it involved corrupt practice, that whole court process will last more than 6 or 7 years. But elected terms, at the federal and municipal levels, are themselves only 5 years long.”

Kancha Ilaiah, an esteemed writer and political scientist in Hyderabad belongs to the low-caste Dalit community. He said the following about the Supreme Court ruling, “The Supreme Court now says we cannot use the caste issue for our liberation, for our equality. If they say that, then how do we achieve our liberation? What about the right to speak about my oppression? It is as if the Supreme Court has said [Our Enslavement] cannot be used as an instrument to fight back.”

The court decision comes as a response to a petition filed by a politician in 1990. The ruling complicates matters for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose ruling party has always ran on a Hindu Nationalist platform and who is expected to launch his reelection bid in 2019. The three dissenting judges stated that the decision be reducing “democracy to an abstraction” and preventing people from expressing legitimate concerns and issues using identity politics.

Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi in a statement expressed her views on the Supreme Court decision, “I welcome this pragmatic message from the Supreme Court with regard to how politics has come to be dominated by caste and religious equations, especially by some parties which have made these a part of their ideology to rise in Indian politics.”

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