Upholding Electoral Integrity: Understanding the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951


Recently, the principal opposition party files an official complaint with the Election Commission, seeking action against the Prime Minister for allegedly invoking religion to create division among communities.

  • The opposition also alleged that the PM during his campaign rally, invoked religion and religious symbols to create enmity between groups.

GS-02 (Polity)

The Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951: Key Provisions

  • Political Parties:
    • The RPA, 1951 regulates the registration and functioning of political parties in India.
    • Registered political parties can attain recognition as ‘State Party’ or ‘National Party’ over time.
    • Any changes in the name or address of a registered political party must be communicated to the Election Commission of India (ECI).
    • The Act does not allow the ECI to derecognize a political party.
    • Political parties are required to disclose donations above Rs. 2,000 and cannot accept cash donations exceeding Rs. 2,000.
    • Foreign companies, as defined under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, are now eligible to contribute to political parties.
  • Conduct of Elections:
    • The RPA, 1951 governs the conduct of elections and by-elections in India.
    • It provides administrative machinery for conducting elections and specifies the procedure for resolving disputes arising from elections.
    • Individuals contesting elections must file affidavits declaring their criminal records, assets, liabilities, and educational qualifications.
    • Right to Information provisions mandate candidates to disclose pending criminal cases against them.
    • Voting through postal ballot can be facilitated for specific classes of people, as notified by the ECI in consultation with the government.
  • Disqualifications of MPs:
    • Section 8(3) of the Act stipulates that MPs convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more are disqualified for six years upon release.
    • Even if an individual is on bail pending appeal, they are disqualified from contesting elections.
    • Section 8(4) of the RPA, 1951, which allowed convicted MPs to continue in office pending appeal, was struck down by the Supreme Court in July 2013.

‘Corrupt Practices’ as Defined by the RPA, 1951

  • Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951:
    • It outlines the scope of ‘corrupt practices’ in electoral processes.
    • It encompasses actions such as bribery, undue influence, dissemination of false information, and the incitement of animosity or hostility among different segments of India’s populace based on religion, race, caste, community, or language.
    • These practices are carried out by candidates with the aim of enhancing their electoral prospects.
  • Section 123(2):
    • It delves specifically into ‘undue influence’, characterizing it as any direct or indirect intervention or attempt to interfere with the exercise of electoral rights.
    • This interference can take various forms, including threats of harm, social isolation, or expulsion from societal groups, all aimed at coercing voters into favoring a particular candidate.
  • Section 123(4):
    • It addresses the deliberate dissemination of false statements designed to sway the outcome of an election in favor of a candidate.
    • Such misinformation, when intentionally spread, can significantly impact the fairness and integrity of the electoral process.
  • Additionally, the Act lays down provisions for the disqualification of elected representatives found guilty of corrupt practices or convicted of certain offenses.
    • This disqualification may also arise from the failure to declare election expenses or from holding interests in government contracts or projects.
    • These measures are crucial for upholding the sanctity and credibility of democratic elections in India.

Key Provisions of the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023:

  • Replacement of Previous Act: The legislation supersedes the 1991 Election Commission Act, concentrating on the appointment, pay, and termination of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs).
  • Appointment Process:
    • The President appoints the CEC and ECs upon the Selection Committee’s recommendation.
    • The Committee includes the Prime Minister, a Union Cabinet Minister, and the Leader of the Opposition or the largest opposition party’s leader in the Lok Sabha.
    • A Search Committee, led by the Cabinet Secretary, proposes candidates.
    • Eligibility requires experience equivalent to a central government Secretary.
  • Salary and Conditions: The CEC and ECs will now receive remuneration and service conditions comparable to the Cabinet Secretary, contrasting with the prior alignment with a Supreme Court Judge’s salary.
  • Removal Process:
    • The law maintains Article 324(5), permitting the CEC’s removal akin to a Supreme Court Judge.
    • ECs can only be removed with the CEC’s recommendation.
  • Protection for CEC and ECs: The legislation shields the CEC and ECs from legal actions related to their official duties during their tenure, safeguarding them from civil or criminal proceedings.
  • Aim of Amendment: The amendment aims to safeguard these officials from legal repercussions tied to their official functions, ensuring their effectiveness and independence.

About ECI:

  • It functions as an independent constitutional body tasked with overseeing both Union and State election processes throughout India.
  • Established on January 25, 1950 (observed as National Voters’ Day), it operates from its headquarters in New Delhi.
  • It is responsible for managing elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies, as well as the offices of the President and Vice President.
  • The ECI does not handle elections for panchayats and municipalities.
  • Instead, the Constitution mandates the existence of distinct State Election Commissions for this purpose.