Virtually reopening its Hindutva judgement, the Supreme Court has decided to expedite hearing by a seven judge-bench for an authoritative pronouncement on electoral law categorising misuse of religion for electoral gains as "corrupt practices".
The issue assumes importance as questions were raised on its 1995 verdict which held that vote in name of "Hindutva/ Hinduism" did not prejudicially affect any candidate and since then three election petitions are pending on the subject before the apex court. The apex court's three-judge bench in 1995 had held that "Hindutva/Hinduism is a way of life of the people in the sub-continent" and "is a state of mind."
The judgement was delivered in the case of Manohar Joshi versus NB Patil which was authored by Justice JS Verma who found that statement by Joshi that "First Hindu State will be established in Maharashtra did not amount to appeal on ground of religion." The observation was made while dealing with the question regarding the scope of corrupt practices mentioned in sub-section (3) of Section 123 of the 1951 Representation of People Act.
The issue for interpretation of sub-section (3) of Section 123 of the Act once again had come on January 30 (Friday) before a five-judge headed by Justice RM Lodha which referred it for examination before a larger bench of seven judge which will be constituted by chief justice P Sathasivam. The bench, also comprising justices AK Patnaik, S J Mukhopadhaya, Dipak Misra and FIM Kalifulla was dealing with the appeal filed in 1992 by BJP leader Abhiram Singh, whose election to 1990 Maharashtra Assembly was set aside in 1991 by the Bombay High Court.
A three-judge bench on April 16, 1992 had referred Singh's appeal in which the same question and interpretation of sub-section (3) of Section 123 of the Act was raised to a five-judge Constitution Bench.
While the five-judge bench was hearing this matter on January 30, it was informed that the identical issue was raised in the election petition filed by one Narayan Singh against BJP leader Sunderlal Patwa and the apex court's another Constitution Bench of five Judges has referred a larger Bench of seven Judges.
Thereafter, the bench headed by Justice Lodha referred Singh's matter to the Chief Justice for placing it before a seven-judge bench. "Be that as it may, since one of the questions involved in the present appeal is already referred to a larger Bench Of seven Judges, we think it appropriate to refer this appeal to a limited extent regarding interpretation of sub-section (3) of Section 123 of the 1951 Act to a larger Bench of seven Judges. "The Registry will place the matter before the Chief Justice for constitution of a Bench of seven Judges. The matter may be listed subject to the order of the Chief Justice," the January 30 order said.
It said,"In the course of arguments, our attention has been invited to the order of this Court dated August 20, 2002 in Narayan Singh vs. Sunderlal Patwa 1. By this order, a Constitution Bench of five Judges has referred the question regarding the scope of corrupt practice mentioned in sub-section (3) of Section 123 of the 1951 Act to a larger Bench of seven Judges. "This became necessary in view of the earlier decision of a Constitution Bench of this Court in Kultar Singh vs. Mukhtiar Singh," the bench said.