Section 171F. Punishment for undue influence or personation at an election

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SECTION 171F. PUNISHMENT FOR UNDUE INFLUENCE OR PERSONATION AT AN ELECTION

The punishment for undue influence is described in section 171 F of the Indian Penal Code.

It says “Punishment for undue influence or personation at an election.—Whoever commits the offence of undue influence or personation at an election shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both.” [1]


SCOPE OF THE OFFENCE OF UNDUE INFLUENCE

A voluntary interference or attempted interference with a person's right to enjoy his electoral rights, including the right to contest in elections, withdraw from elections, or vote, is a necessary component of the offence. The wide ambit of this section also includes other forms of menace and intimidation as well. Subsection (2) covers: (i) threat of bodily harm to a candidate, voter, or any other person in whom a candidate or voter has an interest, and (ii) acts or efforts to instill fear of Divine wrath or spiritual censure in a candidate or voter.

Undue influence is defined as voluntarily interfering with or attempting to interfere with the free exercise of any election rights. [[2] It covers all threats of bodily harm or property damage, as well as illicit tactics of persuasion, including the use of Divine displeasure, and any interference with a candidate's or voter's right to vote. Undue interference or influence does not include merely influencing a voter's decision to vote for one candidate over another. [3]

CASE LAW

In the case of Ram Dial v Sant Lal [4], the question of whether an act of 'undue influence' is judged to have been committed only if it has caused some tangible consequence was raised. The Supreme Court emphasised that, unlike English law, what is material in Indian law is the performance of acts designed to interfere with the free exercise of any electoral right, rather than the actual result generated. The election of the appellant, Ram Dial, had been annulled in that instance because he had induced some religious leaders to issue orally issued religious edicts or farmans prohibiting community members from voting for the respondent. The court ruled that religious leaders had the right to use their power to influence voters and others in favour of a particular candidate by voting for him and canvassing for him. However, if religious leaders issue directives or farmans hinting that individual who defy their mandate will face Divine wrath or spiritual censure, the matter will be regarded one of 'undue influence,' as described by section 123(2) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (which corresponds to S 171C, IPC, 1860). The Supreme Court refused to overturn the lower courts' decisions, ruling that the appellant's election was illegitimate due to an act of undue influence.

In Baburao Patel v Dr. Zakir Hussain [5], the Supreme Court considered the various acts that may or may not constitute the offence of 'undue influence' under section 171C of the IPC and section 123(2) of the RPA, as well as whether whips issued by a political party to its members to vote for a particular person would constitute 'undue influence.' The court clarified that, while s 171C's language was broad, it did not include canvassing in support of any candidate in an election. Subsection (2) is purely for illustration purposes and cannot be used to limit the scope of the provision. Thus, exercising a lawful right without intending to interfere with an election right would not be considered undue influence.

The following actions were determined not to be undue influence:

(1) Ministers canvassing for their political party's presidential candidate would not be considered undue influence. It would not be an offence if the minister only asks the electors to vote for a specific candidate from his party, and in doing so, puts forth the merits of the candidate in front of the public;

(2) Even if this were in the form of a whip, it would not be an offence, as long as the electorate is not compelled to vote in the manner indicated.

(3) Letters addressed by the Prime Minister, as leader of a political party, to electors urging them to vote for a party candidate, or by the leader of a political party to all party members urging them to cast their first preference votes for the party candidate, were also found not to be acts of undue influence.

(4) As a result, even if a chief minister canvasses his own party members to vote in favor of the party candidate, or if ministers are dispatched to travel and canvass for the party candidate, these acts would be excluded from the definition.

In Narbada Prasad v Chhaganlal [6], the Supreme Court upheld the High Court's decision to annul the election of the appellant, Narbada Prasad, on the grounds that he engaged in undue influence by urging voters not to vote for the Congress Party since it had not outlawed cow slaughter in India. Voters will be committing the sin of go-hatya (cow slaughter) if they voted for the Congress instead of the Jan Sangh, he claimed in his speech. As a result, the appellant, who was a member of the Jan Sangh, was elected. The advice not to vote for the Congress because doing so would be committing the sin of go-hatya, thereby incurring divine disfavor constituted to the making of threats, according to the Supreme Court. Such threats, it was held, fell beyond the purview of the clause defining undue influence, and so his election should be annulled.

The act alleged to be undue influence must be in the nature of a tyrannical pressure on the candidate's or voter's thinking. By virtue of s. 171C (3), a pronouncement of public policy or a pledge of public action does not amount to undue influence in elections. The crime of undue influence in elections is punishable by up to one year in prison, a fine, or both.


  1. Section 171 F, Indian Penal Code, 1860">[1]
  2. Section 171 C, Indian Penal Code, 1860(2]
  3. Section 171 C, Indian Penal Code, 1860([3]
  4. 1959 AIR 855([4]
  5. 1968 AIR 904([5]
  6. AIR 1969 SC 395([6]