The Supreme Court said on Tuesday it would not go into the larger debate on what Hindutva was but asserted that asking for votes in the name of religion was “evil” and “not permissible”.
The court, which is revisiting its 1995 judgment that held Hindutva was a way of life and not a religion, said it would only examine whether candidates could be disqualified if their supporters invoke religion or caste to seek votes.
“It is difficult to define religion. There will be no end to this,” the seven-judge bench Chief Justice TS Thakur said, an observation that comes a few months ahead of five state elections.
Political parties often turn to religion and caste to garner votes, polarising opinion which on many occasions leads to violence.
Chief Justice TS Thakur spelled out the issues the court would look into and said the bench was not asked to define Hindutva.
The court was responding to a petition filed by social activist Teesta Setalvad, asking to be made a party to the case. The court must not only redefine Hindutva but also ban its use in election speeches, said Setalvad, who fought legal battles for several 2002 Gujarat riot victims.
“We will not re-consider the judgment and also not examine Hindutva or what constitutes the religion at this stage. At this stage, we will confine ourselves to the limited issue raised before us in the reference,” the court said.
It means the court will interpret section 123 of the representation of people’s act that bars candidates from using religion to seek votes and will define what amounts to exploitation of religious sentiments.
Asking for votes in the name of religion was a greater evil than seeking support by invoking caste or language, the court said.
“Religious appeal is bound to influence voters,” it said. “In a secular country any appeal to the voters should be in tune with secular philosophy and political agitation, advancing the cause of religion with an intent to garner votes is not permissible.”
The bench is hearing three cases that question the use of religion in elections and ask whether candidates who win this way should be disqualified.
The hearing will continue on Wednesday.