Lok Sabha polls | Make voters aware that seeking votes on religious, caste lines, is a corrupt practice: PIL in Madras High Court

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A view of the Madras High Court. File photograph

The Madras High Court on Monday, June 3, 2023, sought the response of the Election Commission of India (ECI) to a public interest litigation petition that insisted on conducting a widespread campaign across the country to make voters aware of the fact that seeking votes on the grounds of religion, caste or language amount to corrupt electoral practices.

The First Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice R. Mahadevan and Justice Mohammed Shaffiq ordered notice, returnable by 12 weeks, to the ECI on the PIL petition filed by Vellore-based advocate Rajesh Anouar Mahimaidass who argued his case in person.

The petitioner told the court that the preamble of the Constitution unambiguously declares India to be a secular nation. Further, the Supreme Court in Abhiram Singh versus C.D. Commachen (2017) had interpreted Section 123(1) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and declared that seeking votes in the name of religion, caste or language would amount to a corrupt electoral practice. In a subsequent decision in 2023, the apex court had expected States to crackdown against hate speeches.

Despite the law of the land being very clear, it was common practice across the country for political parties and their representatives to polarize voters on the basis of religion, caste and language not only during the election period but also otherwise, the petitioner complained. He insisted that an awareness campaign on the subject be conducted even during non-election periods.

The petitioner said representations made by him in this regard to the ECI since 2023 had not evoked any response. Hence, in order to ensure that voters get to exercise their franchise without being influenced by hate speeches, the petitioner insisted on conducting an awareness campaign on the subject through mainstream as well as social media.

He wanted the websites of the ECI and the Chief Electoral Officers of all States to disseminate this information prominently and urged the court to appoint an independent commission comprising of retired judges and human rights activists to oversee the enforcement of Supreme Court 2017 verdict in Abhiram Singh’s case.

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