SC dismisses plea opposing use of ‘Jai Sri Ram’ slogan in poll-bound Bengal
The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a lawyer’s plea seeking a ban on the use of the slogan “Jai Shri Ram” during campaigning in poll-bound West Bengal, saying it found no ground to interfere. “At most, in a given situation appealing on grounds of religion, the only power available is to approach the high court in an election petition against the winning candidate,” a Chief Justice of India SA Bobde-led bench said.
ML Sharma, the lawyer, told the court that such religious slogans vitiate elections and added those raising such slogans should be restrained and criminal cases be lodged against them.
The court gave Sharma the option of approaching the Calcutta high court. It dismissed the petition as he was unwilling to do so.
Sharma accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is seeking to wrest power in West Bengal after emerging as the second-biggest party in the state in the 2019 national polls, of using the slogan as a religious tool while demanding filing of cases against its top leaders for promoting enmity by raising it.
Sharma asked the court to decide whether the use of a “provocative religious slogan” should be treated as an electoral offence under a provision of the Representation of the People Act that seeks to check promotion of hatred on grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language.
“Using the slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’ is liable to be prohibited and whoever, individual or party or group of person of a party uses it prior to election or during election or thereafter, must be prohibited to participate in election,” said the plea.
BJP leader and Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who is in charge of five Lok Sabha constituencies in West Bengal, last month told HT that “Jai Shri Ram” has become West Bengal’s election slogan.
“Jai Shri Ram” slogans were raised at an event in Kolkata in January to mark the birth anniversary of freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who attended that programme along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was about to walk up to the dais for her speech when the slogan was raised. Subsequently, Banerjee refused to address the audience, saying the programme lost its dignity and she felt insulted. The BJP has targeted Banerjee for getting irritated over the slogan.
Sharma’s plea also questioned the Election Commission’s decision to conduct the polling in West Bengal in eight phases as against three in Assam, and in a single phase in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.
“Conducting election in eight phases while in a single phase in other states, especially when West Bengal is not facing any terrorist attack or under disputed war zone…is a clear case of violation of Article 14 [right to equality] of the Constitution...,” said the plea.