A man garlands a model of a Ram temple during a procession marking the 24th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid Mosque in Ayodhya, in Amritsar on December 6, 2016. Photo: AFP / NARINDER NANU

In a landmark judgement on Monday, India’s Supreme Court said political parties cannot seek votes in the name of religion, race, caste, community or language.

The ruling came days before the announcement of election dates in five states including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab and hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi sounded the election bugle by addressing a massive rally in Lucknow.

Elections are secular exercises in a democracy and canvassing votes in the name of “religion, race, caste, community or language” amounted to “corrupt practice” under election law, a seven-judge bench of the country’s top court said in its 4:3 verdict.

Religion has no role in electoral processes, the court ruled, stressing that mixing state matters with religion is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court’s ruling has special significance for Uttar Pradesh, where India’s ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is planning to woo Hindu voters by promising to build a Ram temple at a disputed site in Ayodhya.

Addressing the biggest rally in his political career at Lucknow on Monday afternoon, Modi said the human sea before him was symbolic of the winds of change blowing across Uttar Pradesh.

Attacking the state’s ruling Samajvadi Party (SP) for its “poor” governance, which neglected the common man, he said development had taken a back seat during the past 14 years. For India to progress, its most populous state too must develop and this is only possible if the people of Uttar Pradesh vote for change, Modi said.

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