February 09, 2005

Promise to cheat

In the Indian Penal Code, Section 415 says this: Whoever, by deceiving any person ... intentionally induces the person so deceived to do ... anything which he would not do ... if he were not so deceived, and which act ... causes or is likely to cause damage or harm to that person in body, mind ... or property, is said to "cheat".

Section 417 says: Whoever cheats shall be punished with imprisonment ... for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or both.

Now the current Congress-NCP Government in Maharashtra came to power last October at least partly on the back of an election promise to "legalise all slums that have come up till year 2000." (See, for example, this report). This was in clear contrast to the Shiv Sena-BJP election promise, which was that they would not extend the cut-off date past 1995.

That is, by subscribing to this party promise, the various Congress and NCP MLAs who won election made this commitment to their voters: that all slums built before 2000 would be allowed to stay intact.

In office, the MLAs threw away that commitment. The Government they formed has embarked on the largest spate of slum demolitions this city has ever seen, maintaining that the earlier cut-off date, 1995, applies. (See, for example, this report).

(And as an aside, note in that report the sentence that says: "Demolitions against rich defaulters, however, won't be as easy. [Municipal Commissioner] Joseph acknowledged that in many cases, action can only be taken after serving notice." Note it, and wonder why action is in fact taken against other "defaulters" -- slum dwellers -- without serving notice. End of aside).

Let's suppose we locate a slum dweller, call him Satyajit, who:

  • moved into his home after 1995, but before 2000; and

  • voted in last October's Maharashtra's election; and

  • would have ordinarily voted for the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance; but

  • was afraid that they would destroy his home; and so

  • voted for the Congress-NCP this time because of their promise to legalise his slum home; and

  • has now watched his slum home disappear under a Municipal bulldozer's maw.

Leave aside for a few minutes whatever views you have on slum demolitions. Consider now Satyajit, on the one hand, and Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and his Government of Maharashtra, on the other.

Clearly, Deshmukh and his coalition's election promise intentionally induced Satyajit to do something which he would not have done without that promise: he voted for the Congress-NCP instead of the Sena-BJP. Just as clearly, this induced act of Satyajit's has caused damage to his property (let alone his body or mind). (All quotes in this para, as you have guessed, from Section 415 of the IPC).

Question: are Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and his Maharashtra Government colleagues therefore "cheats" by the definition of Section 415?

Question: if a court decides that they are, will these cheats then be prosecuted under Section 417, leading to up to a year in prison or fine or both?


Dilip D'Souza said...


Your last sentence rings true: we have been voting for cheats for half a century. Naturally we should be asking questions about that.

But there is something a little more substantial here. The language of the IPC is pretty clear: a person has to induce another person to do an act he would not ordinarily do, which act then causes the second person some damage. In that case the first person is a cheat.

It seems to me that this may be a fit case for taking our politicians to court for false election promises: because this is a specific, clearly worded commitment, the failure to keep which has caused specific damage to the property of a specific person (if we can find such a person).

Whereas with the more usual, more generally worded election promise -- like "Target 100 % literacy" (another Congress-NCP election promise) -- such cheating of a specific person will be much harder to prove.

Look at this as more than just the slum issue. This may just be a way to force an ounce more accountability from politicians. Every ounce counts.

The Tobacconist said...

I buy your argument. Good luck finding that Satyajit who'll file that complaint.


Anonymous said...


What a coincidence! I just read AWADmail issue 153 (A Word A Day by Anu Garg at www.wordsmith.org) which had this (A post by Mr Richard Garbutt):

Reprinted from the Calgary Herald, Sunday, January 30, 2005

Breaking election promise OK: judge
It's official: Politicians can break campaign promises with impunity.
An Ontario Superior Court judge has absolved Ontario premier Dalton McGinty of breaking an elaborately signed contract that promised not to raise or create new taxes.
Justice Paul Rouleau said anyone who believes a campaign promise is naive about the democratic system.