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How Candidates Make Themselves Winnable

THE Supreme Court judgement holding the practice of seeking votes in the name of religion, caste, creed or language as ‘corrupt’ came just before elections in five states, Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Manipur were announced. Though India swears by equality and secularism, electoral battles have been fought mainly exploiting sentiments of caste, religion and language. In Goa too votes are sought and cast on these lines, though subtly. Political parties give tickets to candidates from communities that are dominant in constituencies. While language was not used for political purposes or election agenda in the recent past, it could be in the upcoming elections in the state.
The top court has said an appeal in the name of religion, race, caste, community or language was impermissible under the Representation of People’s Act, 1951. Such a practice would constitute a corrupt practice sufficient to annul the election of a candidate, whether the appeal was made by the contesting candidates or their agents. The SC has held that the provision of RP Act in the matter should be purposive and its interpretation broad. This could set new precedents in the elections, as parties have been seeking votes in the name of caste and creed. Poll victories could end up in legal battles with the defeated candidates going to court alleging the winner sought votes in the name of caste, religion or language. Though direct use of religion in seeking votes is not resorted to by political parties and candidates, they often arouse religious sentiments in order to polarize voters to their advantage. Despite the fact that the prohibitory provisions existed in the statutes they were hardly used in rein in unprincipled politicians and action against those flouting the rules has been rare. With the Supreme Court ruling that religion, race, caste, community or language would not be allowed to play any role in the electoral process, it remains to be seen to what extent the electoral authorities act against the ‘corrupt’.
While the apex court has ruled out using caste, creed, religion and language for electoral purposes, it has not barred political parties from selecting candidates from a social or religious community that is dominant in a particular constituency. The SC has ruled that there should not be any scope for sectarian, caste or language based appeal in political parties seeking votes in the elections in the democratic set-up. However, there is no restriction on selection of candidates from the dominant community. Thus the SC ruling would have a limited role in curbing caste or community politics as parties would still choose candidates belonging to major communities and bank on the support from these communities. In the case of Goa, the BJP is hoping that the apex court verdict would be a dampener for the Goa Suraksha Manch, which is going to fight elections on the issue of medium of instruction and use of regional languages for education at the primary level. It remains to be seen whether the BJP would use the apex court ruling as a blessing in disguise to deprive the GSM of the chief issue on which it has vowed to defeat the ruling party.
With sentiments of caste, creed, or community deeply rooted in the country it would take a lot of time for the people to break the barriers. People have been forced to use the caste or religious community tag for historical reasons. In some cases, it brings a host of advantages and benefits, like reservations and sops to them by virtue of their belonging to their communities. It may not be easy to do away with the prevalent system only with the apex court calling the practice as corrupt. Social dynamics has to change before political parties will stop using caste, language or religion for mobilizing support for themselves. Economic transformation is also required in order to bridge the gap between religious communities and castes in order to eliminate religion and caste as factors in elections. However, political parties have a responsibility to practise “social engineering” not to establish caste alliances as a support base for their electoral victories but to level up caste and religious barriers. After all, political parties are the main agents of change in a democracy. They should take a vow not to select candidates on the basis of caste or religion but on the basis of merit. The corruption that the apex court has pointed to happens because political parties choose “winnability” over merit. The parties shut their eyes to the basis on which the candidate has made himself “winnable.” We could make a beginning with the apex court order if the parties stop nominating candidates who look “winnable” on the mobilization of caste, religion or language and on the strength of their merit.

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