Electoral politics in India has a new dimension – arrest of voters for accepting bribe.
The Election Commission has arrested 20 persons in the ongoing elections in Karnataka for accepting money to vote in favour of particular candidates – a bailable offence. If the government accepts the commission's plea, offering or accepting money for vote would land people in jail (non-bailable offence).
It is unusual because, normally, a case of bribery is registered against candidates or their nominees for giving money to voters to use franchise in their favour. The voters, who receive money, are not touched as most of them were from economically deprived section.
The practice resulted in the accused going scot-free in the absence of evidence of someone having received the bribe for voting. "There had been no conviction for years for bribing voters," a senior election commission official said. The commission found that proving such a case in court of law was almost impossible.
The commission went for a tactical change. It decided to take action against voters also so that they could have a better case in the court of law and it could also deter voters from accepting money.
The decision was the fallout of the commission's finding that both the major political parties in Tamil Nadu - DMK and AIADMK - had given money and gifts to voters in the last assembly elections but was not able to crack the whip as evidence was not available.
The commission at that time had not taken any penal action against the voters thinking it would send a wrong message that it was targeting the poor and the deprived.
Now, the commission has taken a view to initiate action for deterrence and not harassment. "We are not going whole hog on getting cases registered against voters. It is being done just to send a message that accepting money for voter is a crime under the Indian Penal Code," the commission official said, who accepted that most of voters accepting money were poor. The decision is being implemented in Karnataka polls.
Another reason for the commission failing to stop the menace of bribing voters is the weak provisions in the law, which makes offering or taking bribe a bailable offence.
The commission wants the offence to be non-bailable and has made a request to home ministry to amend the Indian Penal Code. "As many as 18 state governments have agreed to the proposal," the official said and added that the ball was now in the court of the ministry.
The commission believes that if the amendment is enacted before next general elections it can become a huge deterrent in checking the electoral malpractice of money for votes.