Former Justice KM Joseph: ECI doing the greatest disservice to the constitution and the founding fathers by not taking action against those seeking vote on religion

In his speech, Justice Joseph speaks on the importance of a free media and an impartial ECI to maintain the values enshrined in our Preamble and the Constitution

“Good governance upholding the rule of law, constitutionalism, and constitutional morality, a fearless independent and totally honest judiciary are the rights of the people of India.”

Former SC Judge, Justice KM Joseph

On May 30, Former Supreme Court Judge, Justice KM Joseph spoke at a inauguration ceremony and emphasised upon the values enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of India, importance of a free and independent Election Commission of India as well as independent and fair media. Justice Joseph were speaking at the inaugural ceremony of National Conference on “The Constitution in a Changing India”, organised by the Student Union 2023-24 at the GLCE Law Journal and the Bhagath Singh Study Circle of Government Law College, Ernakulam.

On the Preamble and the Indian Constitution: 

As per the retired judge, the Preamble of the Constitution effectively encapsulates the objectives that the founding fathers had in mind when they drafted it. According to him, the core values that are unchangeable, unchangeable, and permanent are liberty and equality. Justice Joseph also provided that only by following the path as provided by the principles of equality and liberty can Justice be attained. However, Justice Joseph stated that equality, liberty and fraternity can only be possible based on fraternity that exists among the diverse groups of people in our nation. 

“The constitution can speak through its silences much as it does through express words.”

On criticism of one’s country:

Justice Joseph also spoke about a citizen’s right to speech and expression, which also includes their right to voice criticism, and the same should not caste any shadow on their nationalism and love for country. 

“I love my country just as much as anyone but you cannot have the love of your country being conditioned by the imposition of a restriction that you’ll not be critical. My right to be critical of my country is a natural right which I will not surrender under the social contract theory merely because others may not like me and I’m in the minority. When you talk about democracy and political justice, it is not just about casting your vote every 5 years.”

On secularism and seeking votes on the basis of caste:

Justice Joseph also shed light on the importance of Secularism, which was made a part of the Preamble through the 42nd amendment, which ensured that all religions are treated as equals in India. As per Justice Joseph, based on principle of secularism, the courts had held that the political parties must be secular and they cannot have a de-facto reversion of state religion. 

In furtherance to this, Justice Joseph underscored the importance of the Election Commission of India to take timely action against those political parties that use religion, race, language and caste to fetch votes in elections. Stating the appeal for votes on the basis of such identities is forbidden by law, Justice Joseph said that the Election Commission must come down heavily against such practices.

“Another important aspect is S. 123(3) of RP Act which prohibits candidates from asking votes in the name of religion. This has been part of a lot of debates. You should understand that the politicians are very much aware of their limitations. Anything that they do, which creates a religious identity and fetch them votes is forbidden and ECI must come down heavily, whoever it is, however high he may be. The ECI should take action in time and not keep matters pending. If they do not do that, they are doing the greatest disservice to the constitution and the founding fathers.”

On the importance of freedom of media: 

Speaking about media treating their duty to impart information to the public as a business, Justice Joseph came down heavily upon the media houses making their journalistic duty subordinate to their wish to earn money. 

“When business houses control media houses, there is a tendency that they will tow a line which will be dictated by their editors and ultimately tracing the line of control to the management. The government of the day is powerful. If the government has a hold over them, in terms of controlling their business fate, the media will fall in line and surrender their freedom and duty.”

 Justice Joseph then brings in focus the citizen’s right to be informed and right to know, which are fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India. 

“Why this is important is because, to know itself is a fundamental right? If you don’t know, how will you take part in democracy? You can’t take part unless the stream of information coming from media houses is pure i.e., it’s unbiased and not done with an agenda to help anyone or to destroy another. Unfortunately, very large sections of the media are doing just that. This has a gross impact on the working of the constitution as it impacts the electoral system itself.”

Justice Joseph also highlighted the changes that can be brought into the country if media fairly, and without any fear, imparts information to the public. He took up the example of the Pune drunk driving case, wherein the minor accused who was given bail, was later dealt sternly due to public uproar. However, Justice Joseph also expressed his dissatisfaction with which media dealt with the Manipur crisis, succumbing to the pressure of the political parties in power.

“Who will question the people governing us if the media does not take up? I also say that it is not the role of media to be the opposition. But there are issues which matter to the common man, which the media has to take up as part of its duty. For eg, if in one voice, if the media had gone non-stop for Manipur, like they did for Pune, perhaps much better things would’ve happened I’m shocked when I watch some of the media but I still watch it with the hope that one day they’ll reform. I want a healthy and resilient media.”

The extracts have been taken from LiveLaw.


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