The Supreme Court outlawed on Monday seeking votes in the name of religion, caste, race, community or language, a landmark judgment ahead of crucial assembly elections in five states where faith and caste are top poll issues.
"The relationship between man and god is an individual choice. The state is forbidden to have allegiance to such an activity,” the bench said.
Four out of the seven-judge bench banned seeking votes in the name of religion, but three judges said that such practice can be allowed. Chief Justice T S Thakur, Justices Madan B Lokur, Sharad Bobde, L Nageshwra Rao favours for rooting out religion from an election, Justices A K Goel, U U Lalit and D Y Chandrachud differed.
The court gave a wider meaning to Section 123 of the Representation of People Act to stamp out the use of religion and community affiliation from elections.
The judgment will have significant implications in states that go to the polls just months from now, especially in Uttar Pradesh, where the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya and caste-based mobilisation are top poll planks.
In Punjab too, religion and sacrilege are top campaign issues.
The court was revisiting a 20-year-old judgment that called Hinduism a "way of life” and said a candidate was not affected prejudicially if votes were sought on this plank. But several petitions filed over the years have challenged the verdict.
The question before the top court is whether seeking votes in the name of religion was a corrupt practice under the Representation of the People Act, and if candidates who indulge in this practice should be disqualified.
During the hearing, the court had said elections were a secular exercise and religion should be separated from political processes.