Supreme Court: Criminalisation of politics was the high point of the discussion in the instant case as the Court sat to decide the constituents of ‘undue influence’ in the context of Section 260 of Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act, 1994 which has adopted the similar expression as has been used under Section 123 (2) of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951. The Court observed that revelation of pending criminal cases is a necessary obligation upon the candidates while filing the nomination and concealment of the same hinders the voter’s right to make an informed choice as it becomes a direct or indirect interference or attempt to interfere with the free exercise of the right to vote by the electorate, on the part of the candidate. It was further observed that since in the present case the candidate had the knowledge of the pending case upon which cognizance has been taken and he had chosen not to disclose the fact, this therefore would amount to ‘undue influence’ and would be a corrupt practice therefore the Election Tribunal is to declare the election null and void under Section 100(1)(b) of Representation of People’s Act, 1951.
In the instant case the validity of the appellant’s election to the post of President of Thekampatti Panchayat, Mettupalayam Taluk, Coimbatore district, Tamil Nadu was challenged due to non- disclosure of full particulars of criminal case by the appellant while filing the nomination. The Tamil Nadu State Election Commission makes it mandatory to every candidate desiring to contest an election to a local body to disclose that whether the candidate has any pending criminal case for any offence punishable with imprisonment for two years or more and in which charges have been framed or cognizance taken by any Court. The Coimbatore Election Tribunal declared the election void on grounds of the non- disclosure which was affirmed by the Madras High Court. V. Mohana and R. A. Padmanabhan represented the appellant and respondent respectively along with noted counsel Harish Salve who was the Amicus Curiae.
The Court raised serious concerns over the mushroom growth in criminalisation of politics and referred various decisions of the past where it was reiterated that a citizen’s right to vote is a medium of expression and the voter has a right to know about the background especially criminal background of any candidate that are in the fray to be elected for it leads to the path of good governance. The Court further observed that transparency is the most cherished feature of democracy and failure to disclose the criminal antecedents by a candidate amounts to corrupt practice eventually destroying the sanctity of constitutional democracy. It was also observed that the basic concept of ‘undue influence’ relating to an election is voluntary interference or attempt to interfere with the free exercise of electoral right; the voluntary act also encompasses attempts to interfere with the free exercise of the electoral right. Krishnamoorthy v. Sivakumar, 2015 SCC OnLine SC 102, decided on 05.02.2015