1. The Representation of the People Act, 1951 provides for the disqualification of the elected representatives of the people if the said representatives are found guilty of corrupt practices. The Act inter alia defines “corrupt practices” as follows:
123. Corrupt practices.—The following shall be deemed to be corrupt practices for the purposes of this Act:—
(1) "Bribery", that is to say—
(A) any gift, offer or promise by a candidate or his agent or by any other person with the consent of a candidate or his election agent of any gratification, to any person whomsoever, with the object, directly or indirectly of inducing—
(a) a person to stand or not to stand as, or to withdraw or not to withdraw from being a candidate at an election, or
(b) an elector to vote or refrain from voting at an election, or as a reward to—
a person for having so stood or not stood, or for having withdrawn or not having withdrawn his candidature; or
(ii) an elector for having voted or refrained from voting;
2. Thus, any offer or promise of any gratification made to an elector by a candidate or his agent or any other person with the consent of the candidate, with the object of inducing him to vote at an election or as a reward for having voted at an election is deemed to be a corrupt practice. That’s clear enough. However, there is ambiguity regarding the offer or promise made on behalf of the candidate in the manifesto of the political party which he represents in the election.
3. The candidate who contests an election on a political party’s ticket is presumed to be in agreement with and bound by the party manifesto. He can neither disown nor dispute any offer or promise made in the manifesto, whether it is to do with governance or policy or gifts to citizens. All the offers and promises made in the party manifesto may be said to have been made on behalf of the candidate and with his approval. Instead of each candidate who contests elections on a party ticket making those offers and promises individually, the party manifesto makes these offers and promises on behalf of and with the approval of the candidates.
4. Such being the case, if an offer or promise made in the party manifesto is hit by the definition of “corrupt practice”, the candidate who contests the election on that party’s ticket would be guilty of “corrupt practice” even if he or his agent have not directly made such an offer or promise.
5. All offers or promises made to the electors in the party manifesto offering pecuniary benefits such mixer grinders, television sets etc if the party forms the government would be covered by the definition of “corrupt practices”, even if the manifesto does not explicitly state that the offer or promise is being made to induce the electors to vote for that party’s candidates in the elections. The direct link between the offer or promise of pecuniary gifts and the party being voted to power is ground enough for such a reading of the law. There can be little doubt in the mind of the elector that the pecuniary benefits offered or promised in the manifesto will fructify only if he casts his vote in favour of that party. In other words, he is being induced to vote for that party by the offer or promise of pecuniary benefits if the party is voted to power.
6. Were the candidate to offer or promise that every elector would be gifted a mixer grinder if he is elected to power, he would be held guilty of having indulged in a “corrupt practice”. Making such an offer or promise in the party manifesto is simply the expedient by which the candidate shields himself from the invocation of the provisions of the law regarding disqualification on the ground of “corrupt practices”.
7. Should the law not be amended to explicitly state that offers or promises of pecuniary benefits made in the election manifesto would attract the provision of section 123 of the Representation of People Act, 1951? Had we had such a provision, would the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu been readying itself to hand out thousands of crores of the taxpayer’s money as the freebies promised in its manifesto?