Three Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states have told the Supreme Court that the judiciary should not lay down a “straitjacket standard” for the contents of an election manifesto with respect to religion, The Indian Express reported. Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan said “religion is not an anathema to the Constitution”, and it was not possible to separate it from society.

Appearing for the states, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said this was the case in a "multi-religious country like India, owing to its very uniqueness and diversity of religion, caste, community etc" He said religion can thus be used in any sphere of society, except to the extent prohibited under the Constitution or by any statutory provision.

The Constitution bench, led by Chief Justice of India TS Thakur, is also examining its 1995 stand on the use of words such as "Hindutva" during elections to draw mileage from particular groups of voters. In a landmark judgment in 1995, the court had defined ‘Hindutva’ or Hindu as “a way of life and not a religion in India”, thus approving the use of the words in election campaigns.

The states said the judiciary should not interfere in this regard, because the courts in the country were competent enough to look into cases on the basis of their individual merit after elections were held. Mehta said Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act states that candidates should not campaign along the lines of “religion, caste, community, language”, hence it would be unfair to treat one “corrupt practice” as more grave than the others.

The apex court bench also observed that secularism did not mean aloofness to religion but giving equal treatment to every religion. "Religion and caste are vital aspects of our public life. Can it be possible to completely separate religion and caste from politics?" the bench said. According to the court, it was not possible to put down “dos and don’ts” for political speeches. “We are not going into the permissibility of religion in political speeches. We cannot give an exhaustive listing of ‘you can say this and you cannot say that’ in political speeches,” the bench said.

The bench is hearing three cases that challenge the practice of using religion to seek votes. Social activist Teesta Setalvad and others have also asked the apex court to reconsider its ruling on the word "Hindutva" to restrict political outfits from "exploiting religious sentiments"