The right to vote, based on an informed choice, is a crucial component of the essence of democracy, the Supreme Court has said while upholding a Telangana High Court order dismissing an application of a Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) MP seeking rejection of a petition challenging his election.
Congress candidate K Madan Mohan Rao had challenged the election of Bhim Rao Baswanth Rao Patil from Zaheerabad Lok Sabha constituency before the high court, claiming he had not disclosed pending cases and convictions against him in his poll affidavit, thereby suppressing the information from voters.
Patil had contended under the provisions of the Representation of People Act, 1951, there was no need to disclose the “so-called” criminal cases as he had not been sentenced to imprisonment of more than one year.
A bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Aravind Kumar, which dismissed Patil’s appeal, said whether the existence of a criminal case where charge has not been framed in relation to an offence which does not possibly carry a prison sentence, or a sentence for a short spell in prison, and whether conviction in a case where penalty was imposed, are the material facts and are contested.
“This court would be pre-judging that issue because arguendo (for the sake of argument) if the effect of withholding some such information is seen as insignificant, by itself, that would not negate the possibility of a conclusion based on the cumulative impact of withholding of facts and non-compliance with statutory stipulations (which is to be established in a trial). For these reasons, this court is of the opinion that the impugned judgment cannot be faulted,” the bench said in its verdict pronounced on Monday.
The top court referred to Article 326 of the Constitution and said under the provision every person who is a citizen of India and who is not less than 21 years of age shall be entitled to be registered as a voter at any such election.
“Lastly, the right to vote, based on an informed choice, is a crucial component of the essence of democracy. This right is precious and was the result of a long and arduous fight for freedom, for ‘Swaraj’, where the citizen has an inalienable right to exercise her or his right to franchise,” the bench said.
Democracy, it added, has been held to be a part of one of the essential features of the Constitution.
“Yet, somewhat paradoxically, the right to vote has not been recognized as a Fundamental Right yet; it was termed as a “mere” statutory right,” the bench said.
It a voter’s right to know about the full background of a candidate evolved through court decisions and is an added dimension to the rich tapestry of our constitutional jurisprudence.
“Keeping this in mind, this court is of the opinion that if the appellant’s contentions were to be accepted, there would be a denial of a full-fledged trial based on the acknowledgement that material facts were not suppressed,” it said.
Patil had defeated Rao by a margin of 6,229 votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Rao alleged in his election petition that a case was registered in Jharkhand’s Garhwa district against a business firm owned by Patil and his family members and the BRS politician had suppressed this information in his nomination form.