It's fair to be a little unfair in politics. Before politicians start firing salvos at each other during electioneering, the Supreme Court has ruled that a mere false allegation against a rival candidate cannot be treated as a “corrupt practice” leading to the setting aside of an election.
“In a democracy many allegations and counter-allegations are made, and sometimes these are incorrect. But that does not mean that an election should be set aside straightaway on that account… otherwise almost every election will have to be set aside,” the bench comprising Justices R.V. Raveendran and Markandey Katju said.
The bench clarified that publication of only those false statements of a candidate/election agent or any other person authorised by them can amount to “corrupt practice” under Section 123(4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which relate to the personal character/conduct of a rival candidate and is aimed at prejudicing his electoral prospects.
The ruling leaves enough room for candidates to engage in allegations and counter-allegations but also draws the line for those who tend to go overboard. The bench reversed a Kerala High Court verdict setting aside the election of CPI(M) MLA M.J. Jacob, who had defeated United Democratic Front (UDF) candidate T.M. Jacob in the 2006 assembly polls from Viravom constituency.
The CPI(M) MLA had allegedly published and distributed pamphlets containing certain allegations against his rival UDF candidate. The pamphlet exhorted the voters to "recognise the shameless hypocrite of development trickery" and "react against the deceiver of the people". The election was set aside on an election petition filed by a voter. Terming the setting aside of an election as “a serious matter,” the Supreme Court said: “Election results should not be lightly set aside and the will of the electorate should ordinarily be respected (by courts).”