This section defines the offence of undue influence at election. The offence is punishable under section 171 -F of the Code. Sub-section (1) of the section states that whoever interferes voluntarily, or attempts to interfere voluntarily, with the free exercise of any electoral right commits the offence of undue influence at an election. Actual interference and attempt to interfere have been treated at par.
The interference or its attempt must be with respect to free exercise of any electoral right. ‘Electoral right’ has the same meaning as given under section 171-A of the Code. Sub-section (2) explains the meaning of the expression ‘free exercise of the electoral right’ by including within it certain things while at the same time not prejudicing the generality of the provisions of sub-section (1). It says vide clause (a) that without prejudice to the generality of the provisions of sub-section (1), whoever either threatens any candidate or voter, or threatens any person in whom a candidate or voter is interested, with any kind of injury, it shall be deemed to be an interference with the free exercise of the electoral right of such candidate or voter, as the case may be, within the meaning of sub-section (1). It says vide clause (b) that without prejudice to the generality of the provisions of sub-section (1), whoever either induces a candidate or a voter or attempts to induce a candidate or a voter to believe that he or any person in whom he is interested will become or will be rendered an object of divine displeasure or of spiritual censure, shall be deemed to be an interference with the free exercise of the electoral right of such candidate or voter, within the meaning of subsection (1). Sub-section (3), while excluding certain things from being considered as interference, says that a declaration of public policy or a promise of public action, or the mere exercise of a legal right without any intention to interfere with an electoral right, shall not be deemed to be interference within the meaning of this section.
In Raj Raj Deb v. Gangadhar Mahapatra, a candidate at an election represented himself as ‘Chalanti Vishnu’, a representative of Lord Vishnu, before the voters and impressed upon them that anyone not voting for him would commit a sin against the Hindu religion and sacrilege against the deity. He was held guilty under section 171-F for committing the offence defined under this section. In Baburao Patel v. Zakir Hussain, the Supreme Court held that a letter addressed by the Prime Minister to the members of Parliament asking them to vote for the candidate belonging to her party for the office of President did not constitute undue influence.
In Shiva Kripal Singh v. V.V. Giri, the evidence could not establish that a pamphlet was distributed to the voters by the connivance of a returned candidate which made serious allegations against a rival candidate. The Supreme Court held that this section did not apply.
The Madras High Court held in M. Anbalagam v. State, that a message to boycott an election could not be held to be undue influence because the voters were free to vote or not to vote despite the message.
In Charan Lai Saliu v. Giani Zail Singh, the Supreme Court has observed that in clauses (a) and (b) of sub-section (1) of section 171-C something more than mere canvassing for vote is required. Consequently, an appeal by the Chairman, Minorities Commission, who had been a judge of the Supreme Court earlier, to vote for a particular candidate, did not amount to undue influence.