Explained: All about Chandigarh mayoral wrangle

The Processor tries to explain why the SC pulled up the returning officer who is in the eye of a storm over the Chandigarh mayoral polls — and what the ruling was. The SC has sent a big message — the "murder of democracy" will not be allowed.

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SC sends a big message — the "murder of democracy" will not be allowed: Photo courtesy PTI

NEW DELHI/CHANDIGARH: The "defaced ballot papers" of Chandigarh are making so much news and noise that India's apex court is livid. 

The Supreme Court has sent a big message — the "murder of democracy" will not be allowed.

The Processor will try to explain why the SC has pulled up the returning officer who is in the eye of a storm over the Chandigarh mayoral polls — and what the ruling was.  

Monday saw the nation talking about a viral video — that featured the returning officer — prompting the judges to observe that it was obvious that the office "defaced the ballot papers". 

The bench, on Monday, directed the entire election record, including the ballot papers and videography, be sealed and preserved with the Punjab and Haryana high court registrar till the next ruling even as the RO has been summoned to be present. 

INDEFINITE DEFERMENT

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-Congress coalition has alleged that presiding officer Anil Masih manipulated ballot papers to favour the BJP in the mayoral elections, resulting in their victory.

Now, the Supreme Court has mandated the postponement of the inaugural meeting of the Chandigarh civic body, originally slated for February 7, without specifying a rescheduled date.

On Monday, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, heading a bench, was overseeing the hearing of a plea filed by AAP councillor Kuldeep Kumar. 

The petition contested the HC order, which rejected interim relief for their plea seeking fresh elections under the oversight of a retired judge.

SO ‘OBVIOUS’

In the course of the hearing, the CJI remarked, "It is evident that the presiding officer has tampered with the ballot papers. He should face prosecution.”

India Today quoted the CJI as saying, “Why is he gazing at the camera? Mr Solicitor, this is a mockery of democracy and an assault on its principles. We are shocked."

The SC further said: "Is this the conduct expected from a returning officer? He avoids interfering where there is a cross at the bottom and alters it when it's at the top. Kindly inform the returning officer that the Supreme Court is closely monitoring his actions." 

VIDEO OF CONTROVERSY

To Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s plea that “the court should not form an opinion after hearing only one side”, the court said "we want our conscience to be satisfied or we will order fresh polls”. 

Senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, who appeared alongside Punjab advocate general Gurminder Singh and advocate RPS Brar, presented the video recording. 

According to HT, the recording shows the returning officer tampering with the votes and later running away with the ballots without allowing the petitioner or other AAP councillors to examine it. 

HT quoted the court as saying: "This is a complete negation of democracy. In the video, it is clear while signing the ballots, he squiggles. This is not done on every ballot but only eight ballots which are then declared invalid. We ask for the ballot and he doesn't show it. It is brazen how a majority of 20 votes has been reduced to 12.”

AND THE WINNER IS …

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had secured all three seats of mayor, deputy mayor and senior deputy mayor in the election that was held on January 30. The next hearing was fixed for February 26. 

In the midst of grave accusations against the presiding officer for intentionally invalidating eight votes out of the total 36 cast, allegedly to secure a victory for the BJP, the latter had emerged victorious in the Chandigarh mayor seat.

The BJP's triumph occurred despite having only 15 out of 36 members in the general house. 

The AAP-Congress opposition alliance held 20 votes, and one vote was attributed to the Shiromani Akali Dal councillor.

Presiding officer Anil Masih announced 16 votes in favour of the BJP, 12 votes in favour of the Congress-AAP alliance, and declared eight votes invalid. 

Notably, all invalidated votes were from the opposition group comprising the Congress and the AAP.

The outcome stirred discontent among the opposition INDIA Bloc members of Congress and AAP, prompting them to raise slogans in the assembly.

Right after the announcement of the results, the BJP's mayor candidate Manoj Sonkar promptly took a seat in the mayor's position.

Despite efforts by the Congress and the AAP councillors to prevent him, Sonkar received support from all BJP members and even nominated councillors, securing the mayor's seat for him.

AAP-Congress joint mayor candidate Kuldeep Kumar expressed concern, alleging that eight votes from the opposition group were intentionally invalidated. 

He remarked, "It is very shocking that, unlike in the past, no representative from the ruling BJP and the opposition group (AAP-Congress) were invited by the presiding officer to witness the counting and examine the ballot papers. We will take this matter to court.”

TOI quoted Congress councillor Gurbaz Rawat as remarking, "No reasons for invalidating the votes were provided. The presiding officer is using a pen to mark on the ballot papers and render them invalid. This was observed in the videos, indicating a deliberate attempt to invalidate votes. We will devise our strategy further in consultation with senior party leaders."