A seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court held that an appeal for votes during elections on the basis of religion, caste, race, community or language, even that of the electorate, will amount to a ‘corrupt practice’ and call for disqualification of the candidate.
Section 123(3) of the Representation of the People Act, defines a corrupt electoral practice as follows: “The appeal by a candidate or his agent or by any other person with the consent of a candidate or his election agent to vote or refrain from voting for any person on the ground of his religion, race, caste, community....”
The question before the Supreme Court was deceptively simple: did the underlined word “his” qualify only the electoral candidate (and his agent, or persons speaking with his consent)? Or did it also qualify the person to whom the appeal was addressed (the elector)?
That means did it meant a bar on appeals made in the name of the candidate or does the word ‘his’ also extend to soliciting votes on the basis of the religion, caste, community, race, language of the electorate as a whole.
The latter would mean a blanket ban on any appeal, reference, campaign, discussion, dialogue or debate on the basis of religion, race, caste, community or language, even if such a debate was on the deprivations suffered by the voters due to these considerations.