Across India, but especially in states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, religion is often on the first page of the party manifesto and the first words of the candidate's campaign speeches. 


Between minority appeasement, majority scaremongering and the general perception that being religious is a virtue, half the elections in this country seem to be re-livings of ancient civilizational battles. 


Much of this began 20 years ago when a three-member bench of the Supreme Court refused to void an election because of the words  "the first Hindu State will be established in Maharashtra". 


The bench felt that - "In our opinion, a mere statement that the first Hindu State will be established in Maharashtra is by itself not an appeal for votes on the ground of his religion but the expression, at best, of such a hope. However, despicable be such a statement, it cannot be said to amount to an appeal for votes on the ground of his religion. The question is whether the corrupt practice as defined in the Act to permit negation of the electoral verdict has been made out. To this our answer is clearly in the negative."


The court also made another observation that Hinduism was not a religion, but a way of life, and appeals to be more 'Hindu' could very well just be an appeal to be more Indian, and that was not illegal per se. 


Interestingly, not only has this judgement been repeated endlessly by Hindutva parties but, in effect, candidates of all religious parties were given a free hand to pour out all of their religious fantasies on stages across India, with no fear of legal checks. 


And yet, as is evident, praying to one god or the other does not cause water or electricity to flow, nor does it build roads or manage droughts and floods. 

 

Using scaremongering 'us vs. them' rhetoric, election after election in India takes place where the real issues are completely ignored. 


And since, by and large, all that the candidates promised was that they were members of a particular religion and would 'look after the community', they need not implement any other developmental plans. 


This method, by which steadfast adherence to religious concepts becomes the only qualification, also helps keep large sections of India backwards, with the imposition of medieval ideas in the name of religion. 


The argument has often been made that in India, religion is an inescapable truth. However the same can be said of casteism, sexism or any host of practices. And yet these have been aggressively tackled through legal means over the decades. 


As the Supreme Court has rightfully observed, India is a secular country, and its elections are secular enterprises. And no one should be allowed to discriminate in the name of religion, just because it is an election speech. 


Let our politicians be held to the same standards as our Constitution and the common citizen.