The Supreme Court on Tuesday told the petitioner who has filed a PIL seeking a ban on political parties with names and symbols having religious connotation that he must be "secular" and "fair to everyone" and not selective in his approach.
The apex court also said it will consider whether the matter should be put before a five-judge bench
A bench of justices MR Shah and BV Nagarathna stated this after the counsel for All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen and Indian Union Muslim League objected to the PIL by Syed Waseem Rizwi, saying he had impleaded only these two parties that have Muslim names but has left out those which have a reference to other religions.
Senior advocate KK Venugopal, appearing for AIMIM, also said the court may consider referring the matter to a larger bench of five judges as any order will have far-reaching consequences.
Justice Shah said that the court will consider whether to refer the matter to the larger bench or not.
The bench told senior advocate Gaurav Bhatia, appearing for petitioner Rizwi, "You should bear in mind the objections raised by other parties...."
"Not necessarily, you join all political parties with religious names but you can at least join one party of one particular religion or symbol. There should not be allegations that you are going against one particular religion."
Rizwi had in the PIL sought, among other directions, the cancellation of symbols or names allotted to political parties that have a religious connotation.
Justice Nagarathna told Bhatia, "What is being told to you is that the petitioner must be secular and fair to everybody".
Venugopal also alleged that the petitioner has suppressed many facts in his petition like he is on bail in a criminal case and has not disclosed criminal charges against him.
"He has filed this petition on his Muslim name but has suppressed the fact that he has converted to Hinduism and has adopted the name Jitendra Narayan Singh Tyagi. This petition deserves to be dismissed on this ground alone", he said, adding that Rizwi has impleaded only two political parties with a Muslim name but has left out several other parties.
Venugopal said any order on the petition will affect the democratic process in the country.
"Lots of political parties will be affected if any order is passed in the matter. The entire democratic process which has been there in the country for the past 75 years is going to be affected. Therefore, this court may consider referring the matter to a larger bench of five judges", he said.
He added that provisions of the Representation of People Act have prohibited political parties from seeking votes on the basis of religion, caste, community and language and several other parties like Telugu Desam Party, Indigenous People Front of Tripura and others will get affected by any order passed in the matter.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for IUML, also said that those with Muslim names have been made a party in the matter and the petitioner has not impleaded those having any reference to other religions like Shiv Sena, Hindu Jagran Manch and Shiromani Akali Dal.
The bench said that if other parties are aggrieved then it will hear them also but as far as IUML is concerned, it is represented before the court.
Dave said that earlier the bench has asked the petitioner to implead all such parties, but there is no compliance with the order by the petitioner.
Senior advocate Gaurav Bhatia and advocate Abhikalp Pratap Singh, appearing for Rizwi said that the objections raised are unfortunate.
The bench, while posting the matter for further hearing on March 20, said that it would consider the objections raised by Dave and will also look into whether its earlier orders are complied with or not by the petitioner.
In its affidavit, AIMIM said, "At the outset, it is submitted that the petition deserves to be dismissed at the threshold as the petitioner has approached this court with unclean hands by suppressing material facts which have a direct bearing on the issue sought to be agitated before this court".
It said that Rizwi has failed to disclose his true background to the court. He has served as a member of the Central Shia Board of Wakfs and was also the Chairman of the Board.
"The petitioner has also failed to disclose his association with political parties. He is a former member of the Samajwadi Party and had contested and won a corporation election in the year 2008 from the Kashmiri Mohalla ward in Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh).
"At present, as per reports available online, the petitioner is known to be close to another political party in the State of Uttar Pradesh. The petitioner must therefore be directed to disclose, on affidavit, his membership in and/or affiliation to any political party", it had said.
It also contended that the mere mention of the word, 'Muslimeen' in AIMIM's name, cannot amount to any specific appeal to the electorate on the ground of religion.
The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in its reply affidavit said that the writ petition preferred by Rizwi is frivolous and vexatious.
On November 25, last year, the Election Commission had told the top court that there is no express provision under the law which bars associations with religious connotations to register themselves as political parties.
It, however, said the registered names of those existing political parties which are having religious connotations have become legacy names as they have been in existence for decades.