Friday, May 11, 2007


Even as the television channels vie with one another to make sense of the electoral outcome in Uttar Pradesh, the hypocrisy of all that goes under the label 'election analysis' is apparent. The Election Law makes it a corrupt practice and an offence for a candidate to seek votes on the basis of an appeal to a voter's religion or caste. But just look at what the pundits are saying on the channels. They explain why the Muslim voters voted the way they did, or a Brahmin or Dalit voter, for instance, voted whom and why - to drive home the point that voters vote according to their perception of who would serve their caste/community interests better. While offering this punditry, they don't offer us any proof or data to sustain their claim - whether it is Yogendra Yadav, or Prannoy Roy. Only the other day, during the campaign, Prannoy Roy was grilling a BJP leader why the BJP campaign in the elections has been blatantly communal, as witnessed by him, while listening to the speeches of second-line leaders. Now, if the pundits could explain the voter behaviour in terms of religion and caste, what great objection could be there if candidates appeal to voters' religion and caste either overtly or covertly. If election law bars only overt appeal by candidates, and if the pundits could continue their sophisticated analysis unhindered suggesting motives to voters and candidates, can there be a greater hypocrisy than this? Well, it is possible to suggest that the media pundits are only explaining a reality. Fair enough. But why the candidates are barred from campaigning openly on the basis of this reality? Is our democracy not open and transparent enough - at least from the point of our electoral laws? Or is it the assumption of our election laws that the voters are generally swayed by the appeals to caste and community, and therefore, it is necessary that the voters overcome such prejudices, and exercise vote in a free and fair manner? Does it not follow that there is an implicit assumption that the Indian voters are really immature - which is not the case in reality. Many post-election analysts have also shown that voters had voted beyond such narrow appeals attempted by parties and candidates.
Update: Is there an inconsistency between the bar of the election law on appeals on the basis of religion and caste, and the reality? My quick research suggests that the Representation of Peoples’ Act, 1951 bars only appeals to voters on the basis of the candidates’ religion or caste; that is, a candidate cannot ask the voters to either vote him because of his religion or caste, or refrain from voting the other candidate because of the other candidate’s religion or caste. (Section 123 (3) as interpreted by the Supreme Court). However, if a party or candidate runs a campaign appealing to the voters on the basis of voters’ religion or caste, it is not a corrupt practice under the R.P. Act. The Supreme Court had an opportunity to examine this issue in Narayan Singh v. Sunderlal Patwa (2003 9 SCC 300), but referred the matter to larger Bench of seven Judges, which is yet to be constituted. Considering this, there is considerable scope for a serious academic to examine whether the campaign speeches of various party leaders in the election in U.P. violated the R.P.Act, or short of violating, in view of the apparent lacuna in the Act, actually influenced the voters’ choice because of their communal or caste overtones. I wonder why the so-called secular parties, who have been critical of Justice J.S.Verma’s judgment on campaign use of Hindutva (justifying it as a way of life rather than as a corrupt practice) (Ramesh Yeshwant Prabhoo case (1996 1 SCC 130), have not even considered the need to amend the Act to fill this lacuna.
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