Disclosure of freebies by political parties viz-a-viz undue influence

Abraham Lincoln once said that “The Ballot is stronger than the Bullet”. No doubt the ballot is the strongest weapon in a democracy. But an ill-informed or misinformed voter would lead to catastrophic results. To make the voters more informed about the Freebies promised by the political polities, the Election Commission of India vide letter dated 04.10.2022 sought suggestions from the Political Parties on the proposed amendment to the Model Code of Conduct. The Election Commission of India intends to make it mandatory for political parties to inform voters at large about the financial ramification of the promises made in their respective manifestos. The Election Commission of India has suggested a proforma for disclosure which will include details related to the extent of coverage of the promise, financial implications, availability of financial resources, means of raising financial resources and the impact of raising funds on the state exchequer. The suggestions of the Election Commission of India, if implemented, would definitely reduce the announcement of imaginary/ illusionary promises by the Political Parties. The leaders of the Political Parties would have to be careful in making promises to the voters and would no longer be in a position to announce and induce the voters by their imaginary/ illusionary promises.
In a democratic form of government, voters are of utmost importance. Political Parties cannot be permitted to fool around with them by making promises which cannot be implemented. For purity of the elections, voters must be informed about the possibility of implementation of the promises made by a political party and the means through which implementation of the promises would take place.

Earlier, the candidates as well as Political Parties were not required to disseminate information to the voters. However, things changed after the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of Union of India v. Assn. for Democratic Reforms (2002) 5 SCC 294 in which it was observed that Public education is essential for the functioning of the process of popular government and to assist the discovery of truth and strengthening the capacity of an individual in participating in the decision-making process.
The decision-making process of a voter would include his right to know about public functionaries who are required to be elected by him. The Court further observed that the democratic society must be sufficiently informed so that they may influence intelligently and take a decision which will affect themselves and this will include casting of vote. The Court had directed the Election Commission of India to ensure that a candidate furnishes information relating to his criminal antecedents, assets, liabilities and educational qualification.
In the case of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India (2003) 4 SCC 399 the Supreme Court held that voters have a fundamental right to know about the candidates contesting the elections.
The proposed amendment in the model code of conduct by the Election Commission of India would ensure that voters make an informed decision and are not swayed by the false promises made by the Political Parties and their leaders. The possibility of fulfillment of the promises made might become a key factor in the mind of the voters at the time of exercise of their electorate.

As per the Indian Contract Act, the term “Undue Influence” means a situation where one of the parties is in a position to dominate or influence the will of the other and the party uses that position to obtain an unfair advantage over the other.
The definition as mentioned in the Indian Contract Act could not have ensured free and fair elections and therefore the parliament has defined term “Undue Influence” under the head of Corrupt Practice in the Representation of the People Act, 1951 as any direct or indirect interference with the free exercise of the electoral right by the candidate or his election agent or any third person with the consent of the candidate or his election agent.
In a case where the candidate had suppressed his criminal antecedents, the Supreme Court in the case of Krishnamoorthy v. Sivakumar (2015) 3 SCC 467 held that the same amounted to corrupt practice by way of undue influence, as the exercise of the vote by the voter in absence of requisite information cannot be said to be an informed choice. The Court further held that when something within special knowledge is not disclosed then the same tantamounts to fraud.
Applying the principle of Krishnamoorthy’s case, the Supreme Court in the case of Lok Prahari v/s Union of India (2018) 4 SCC 699 held that non-disclosure of assets and sources of income by the candidate would constitute to be a corrupt practice of undue influence.
The proposed amendment in the Model Code of Conduct suggested by the Election Commission of India would further help the voters in making informed choices.
If the proposed amendments are notified and implemented, then it will become mandatory for the Political Parties to disclose the relevant information in their election manifesto. Non-disclosure of the information would amount to a corrupt practice by way of undue influence.

The disclosure with respect to the scope and applicability of Freebies, the sources through which the funds are for distribution of such freebies are to be arranged and the effect of such distribution on the state exchequer would not only help in achieving purity of elections but also allow the voters to create an informed decision.
The decision of the voter is pivotal for democracy, there should never be tyranny in the mind of the voter which puts fetter and scuttles over the free exercise of an electorate.
If proper information is not disclosed, the voter would be exercising his right based on a misinformed mind.
If the proposed amendment is notified and implemented, then non-disclosure of the information is likely to be construed as a corrupt practice of undue influence.

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