India’s top court on Monday ruled that election candidates cannot use religion or caste to seek votes, describing them as corrupt practices under electoral laws.
India has a Hindu-nationalist government, and most political parties select candidates in various districts based on caste and religious considerations to influence voting.
The ruling on Monday is considered significant as it comes months before elections in Uttar Pradesh state where dominant campaign issues are caste affiliations and the building of a Hindu temple in place of a 16th century mosque demolished by Hindu hardliners.
Legislature elections are also due in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur states. Hindus constitute nearly 80 percent of India’s 1.25 billion people, while Muslims comprise 14.2 percent and the remaining 6 percent adhere to other religions, such as Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Monday’s verdict was split 4-3. The majority ruling by Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and three other judges said that religion “has no role in electoral process which is a secular activity.” Three dissenting judges said the issue should be left to parliament to decide.
The ruling came on a batch of petitions, including one by Abhiram Singh of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party whose election had been set aside by a Mumbai court.