Chandigarh mayor polls: Why Supreme Court order may not help INDIA bloc retain Mayor post


In a major win for the Opposition INDIA bloc, the Supreme Court on Tuesday overruled the results of the Chandigarh mayoral elections in which the Returning Officer invalidated eight votes, resulting in the BJP candidate’s win.

With this, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Kuldeep Kumar, who was defeated by BJP’s Manoj Sonkar, was declared the new Mayor of Chandigarh.

The Supreme Court noted in its order that Anil Masih, the Returning Officer who presided over the mayoral polls, made a “deliberate effort to deface eight ballots” cast in favour of Kuldeep Kumar, who is also the petitioner in the case.

However, despite the court order, the INDIA bloc may face a litmus test in the Municipal Council.

WHAT IS THE CASE

The ruling AAP in Punjab had contested the mayoral elections in alliance with the Congress, with both parties calling it the first stand of the INDIA bloc.

The results, however, were controversial as the BJP candidate Manoj Kumar Sonkar defeated AAP-Congress joint candidate Kuldeep Kumar after eight votes cast in favour of the latter were declared invalid.

Sonkar secured 16 votes out of the 36 total polled votes. Kuldeep Kumar secured 20 votes. However, eight votes were declared invalid and Sonkar emerged victorious.

BJP’s Manoj Sonkar being greeted by party councillors after he won the post of Mayor in the Chandigarh municipal corporation polls, in Chandigarh, Tuesday, January 30, 2024. (PTI Photo)

The AAP alleged that Returning Officer Anil Masih manipulated the ballots cast in favour of Kuldeep Kumar to make the BJP candidate win.

Allegations against Masih were intensified after CCTV footage from the counting room showed Masih marking the ballots while glancing at the camera.

The AAP then moved the Supreme Court, accusing Returning Officer Anil Masih of “fraud and forgery” in the election process.

WHAT DID THE SUPREME COURT SAY

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and including Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra physically examined the ballot papers and concluded that the eight ballots, which were invalidated by Returning Officer Anil Masih, were valid and were cast in favour of AAP’s mayoral candidate Kuldeep Kumar.

The bench noted that Anil Masih made a “deliberate effort to deface eight ballots” cast in favour of the petitioner.

Ahead of the court hearing, Manoj Sonkar resigned from the Mayor’s post. The respondents in the case then raised an argument that a fresh election must be held for the Mayor’s post.

However, the court ruled out fresh elections, stating that it was inappropriate to set aside the entire election due to the misconduct of the Presiding Officer.

WHAT NEXT?

Even as the Supreme Court has declared Kuldeep Kumar the winner of Chandigarh mayoral polls, the INDIA bloc may face trouble proving a majority in the council.

Ahead of the Supreme Court hearing, three AAP councillors from Chandigarh joined the BJP.

After the poll results were declared on January 30, the BJP, on its own, had 14 votes. The other two votes were from a Shiromani Akali Dal candidate and one by ex-officio member Kirron Kher, a BJP MP.

With the three AAP councillors — Poonam Devi, Neha Musavat, and Gurcharan Kala — joining the BJP, the party now has the magic number of 19 in the 36-member council.

The AAP-Congress alliance had won 20 votes, of which eight were declared invalid by the Returning Officer. However, even as the Supreme Court has now held those eight votes valid, the INDIA bloc’s tally stands at 17.

The BJP may now ask the AAP-Congress alliance to prove the majority on the floor as they are short of two votes.

Incidentally, the Supreme Court had called out “horse-trading business” in the mayoral polls.

Published By:

Rishabh Sharma

Published On:

Feb 20, 2024



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