Supreme Court slams Chandigarh mayoral poll officer for ‘murdering democracy’

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The Supreme Court on Monday made strong observations on the controversy that engulfed last week’s Chandigarh mayoral election, in which the BJP’s Manoj Sonkar defeated the AAP’s Kuldeep Kumar by four votes, after eight from the latter party were declared “invalid” without cause.

Video shows presiding officer tampering with ballot papers

The apex court was hearing the petition filed by the AAP-Congress combine candidate for the mayor’s post, Kuldeep Kumar, who challenged the Punjab and Haryana High Court order that refused to grant any interim relief to the party seeking fresh mayoral polls in Chandigarh.

The bench, led by CJI DY Chandrachud, expressed annoyance after watching a video of the electoral proceedings that was widely shared on social media. The video showed Presiding Officer Anil Masih, a member of the BJP’s Minority Cell, sitting by himself at a bench with a bunch of ballot papers before him. As the video plays out, Masih seems to gesture some people (not seen) away from his desk, after which he writes on some of the ballot papers before adding his signature at the bottom. He does not write on all of the papers.

CJI on Chandigarh Mayor Polls

The AAP has alleged that Masih deliberately scribbled on eight votes cast by their councillors, thereby invalidating them, reducing the party candidate’s tally, and allowing the BJP to win.

‘This is a mockery of democracy. This man should be prosecuted’

The Supreme Court was not impressed by the video and the conduct of the presiding officer. “It is obvious he defaced the ballot papers. It is clearly visible in the video… he is looking into the camera and spoiling the ballot paper… Is this the way he conducts the elections? This is a mockery of democracy. This is a murder of democracy. This man should be prosecuted,” the court said.

The court also ordered the Punjab and Haryana High Court to secure all ballot papers and records of the election by 5 pm, and fixed the next date of hearing as February 12. The court said it will not allow democracy to be murdered like this and that it will order fresh elections if not satisfied with the purity of the poll process.

BJP denies allegations, AAP demands action

The BJP has rubbished the allegations of tampering and claimed that the AAP was trying to create a controversy out of nothing. The BJP candidate for the mayor’s post, Manoj Sonkar, got 16 votes, four more than his rival, AAP-Congress’s Kuldeep Dhalor. Notably, eight votes were declared invalid.

The AAP, on the other hand, has demanded action against the presiding officer and the BJP for allegedly rigging the election. The party has also released a new and clearer CCTV video of the alleged tampering on social media. The party said that the video proves that the presiding officer was acting on the instructions of the BJP and that he violated the election rules.

The Congress, which supported the AAP candidate, has also accused the BJP of destroying some of the ballot papers to cover up the allegedly illegal action. The party said that the BJP has no respect for democracy and that it will fight for justice in the court.

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