Indian Supreme Court concerned about irrational gifts politicians offer to voters

Indian politicians may offer so many gifts in trying to influence the population before elections that the Supreme Court of India is concerned about these irrational freebies.

India prime minister receiving a gift from Uttar Pradesh chief minister
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi receiving a gift from Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath | © BMN Network, 2017

The Supreme Court issued a notice to the Election Commission of India and the Union government on January 25 asking to clarify the framework of gifts given by political parties hoping to influence voters.

The Court considers the promise or giveaway of freebies a “serious issue” ahead of legislative assembly elections this year in the states of Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand which will determine their governments.

The Court asked the election commission to set a clearer framework to avoid irrational freebies.

A plea was filed to the court by lawyer Ashwani Kumar Dubey and compared freebies to bribes financed by public funds to stay in power.

Influencing voters by offering freebies with an eye on elections is not only the greatest threat to the survival of democratic values but also injures the spirit of the Constitution,” the petition said.

It also argued that the “distribution of money and promise of freebies has reached alarming levels.”

Last December, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the executive authority of the state, distributed free mobile phones and tablets to thousands of students. The state assembly general elections of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India, will take place through February and March. Yogi Adityanath has not declared his candidacy yet.

In 2021, Chennai High Court already expressed concerns about offering freebies to get votes. Gifts that could consist of television sets, fans, mixer grinders, laptops or washing machines.

Judges also questioned the ethics of individuals who accept to be paid for voting. “Do people, who sell their votes, have any moral right to question their leaders? In a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve,” the note said.

In April, the Election Commission seized more than 10 billion rupees (US$134 million) of freebies meant for distribution to voters in the states of Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal where assembly elections took place in 2021. It consisted of cash, liquor and medicines among other gifts.

This was five times as much as during the last assembly elections when the commission seized only 2.26 billion rupees worth of freebies, The Hindu reported.

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