It, however, said the registered names of those existing political parties which are having religious connotation have become legacy names as they have been in existence for decades.
The poll panel said, nonetheless, political parties are required to abide by the principle of secularism as mandated by provisions of the Representation of People (RP) Act, 1951.
Petitioner Syed Waseem Rizvi, alias Jitendra Tyagi, has sought direction to the Election Commission to cancel the symbol or name allotted to the political parties which in any way symbolise any religion as such practice violates the social fabric of the Constitution.
The top court has asked the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) to file its response on a plea alleging misuse of religious names and symbols by political parties.
A bench of Justices M R Shah and M M Sundresh told senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for IUML, that he should file its reply in the plea.
Dave pointed out that the petitioner, who is on bail in a hate speech case, has selectively targeted IUML and left out parties like Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal, which have far more religious connotation in their names.
Senior advocate Gaurav Bhatia, appearing for Rizvi, said that IUML is a registered political party in Kerala and has legislators in the assembly and the petitioner has also made party the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).
Bhatia, along with advocate Abhikalp Pratap Singh, said the petitioner has relied on decision of the seven-judge constitution bench in the Abhiram Singh case, in which it was held that election will be annulled if votes are sought in the name of the religion of the candidate.
Bhatia said that ‘Shiv Sena’ is not in the name of Lord Shiva but Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
The bench took on record the affidavit filed by the EC and posted the matter for further hearing on January 31.
The bench was told by the EC in its affidavit that in the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 1994, introduced in Lok Sabha, it was proposed that a proviso be added under sub-section (7) of section 29A of the RP Act, 1951 stating that no association bearing religious name would be registered as a political party.
“However, the said bill was not passed and consequently, lapsed with the dissolution of the then Lok Sabha in the year 1996. Therefore, as per the present statute, there is no express provision which bars association with religious connotations to register themselves as political parties under section 29A of the RP Act, 1951,” it said.
The poll panel said that a conjoint reading of sub-section (5) read with proviso to sub-section (7) of the section 29A, reveals that the political party applying for registration with the ECI must bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India and to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy and to also uphold the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.
It said that if the memorandum or rules and registration of the political party do not conform to these principles, it would not be registered by the EC.
“It is pertinent to note that the Election Commission of India, in the year 2005, had taken a policy decision, whereby it decided that political parties having religious name/connotation would not be registered thereon under section 29A of the R Act, 1951. As per the said policy decision taken in 2005, the election commission of India since then has not registered any political party having religious connotation in their name under the provision of section 29A of the RP Act, 1951,” the poll panel said.
It added that certain political parties mentioned in the instant writ petition were registered prior to the said policy decision.
“It is relevant to mention that the Election Commission of India issued an order dated May 19, 2014, whereby it was directed that political parties seeking registration should not have religious connotation,” it said, and referred to the Delhi High Court order of April 29, 2016, wherein it had dismissed a plea seeking cancellation of registration of the political parties having religious connotation of religion, race, caste, creed, community or name of god in its name.
The poll panel said that as per the amended guidelines and application format issued by the poll panel in exercise of provisions under the RP Act, it has been specifically provided that the name of the party should not contain the name of any religion or caste.
“It is to be observed that political parties which have religious connotation in their names also limit their electoral appeal to one particular group and thus, it is not beneficial for the electoral prospects of the concerned party,” it said.
The poll panel said, “Whether the names of these political parties may or may not be disturbed is, accordingly, left open to the wisdom of this court.”
It added that the prayer of the petitioner to cancel the symbol allotted to political parties with religious connotation is legally untenable as symbols reserved for any recognized national or state party is strictly based on its electoral performance.