The Delhi High Court on Wednesday granted the Centre four weeks to state its stand on a petition for de-registering political parties having names with “caste, religious, ethnic or linguistic” connotations and flags that resemble the national tricolour.
A bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad, was informed that in spite of issuance of notice on the public interest litigation in 2019, the central government was yet to file a reply.
Observing that the central government was an “equally important party” to the petition filed by lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, the bench said, “Counsel for Union of India prays for 4 weeks’ time to seek instructions. He is granted 4 weeks’ time.”
The court also asked the counsel for the Election Commission of India, which has already filed a response to the petition, to seek further instructions in the matter.
Upadhyay has contended in his plea that the use of names with religious connotations or symbols similar to the national flag or emblem might prejudicially affect the poll prospects of a candidate and would amount to a corrupt practice under the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951.
“Review the political parties, registered with caste, religious, ethnic or linguistic connotations and ensure that they are not using a flag, similar to the national flag, and de-register them if they fail to change it within three months,” the plea has said.
The petition said such a step will help ensure free and fair elections.
It has referred to political parties such as Hindu Sena, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and Indian Union Muslim League as examples of names with religious connotations and said this was “against the spirit” of the RPA and the Model Code of Conduct.
“In addition, there are many political parties including the Indian National Congress, which use a flag similar to the national flag, which is also against the spirit of the RPA,” it said.
In its reply filed in 2019, the Election Commission had said in 2005 it took a policy decision not to register any political party having a name with religious connotations and thereafter, no such party has been registered.
However, any such party registered before 2005 will not lose its registration for having a name with a religious connotation, the poll panel said.
It said any pre-2005 party cannot be de-registered for having a name with a political connotation and the issue of use of national flag as a symbol by the Indian National Congress has already been decided by the Supreme Court, which had observed that the party has been using it for long.
Regarding INC having a flag resembling the tricolour, the poll panel said, “Particulars regarding flag are not a relevant factor to be furnished by a political party for registration.”
“The present petition is devoid of merits and liable to be dismissed,” the poll panel had said in its affidavit.
The EC also said it has separately instructed all recognised parties to take note of the Supreme Court direction not to seek votes on the basis of religion or caste and to ensure its strict compliance. Seeking votes on the basis of religion or caste will also amount to violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), it said.
The matter will be heard next on August 9.