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SC To Examine Ballot Papers Of Chandigarh Mayoral Elections

Amid worries over “horse-trading” and the controversial victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Supreme Court will review the ballot papers of the Chandigarh mayoral election and the video recording of the counting process today.

Manoj Sonkar of the BJP defeated Aam Aadmi Party-Congress coalition candidate Kuldeep Kumar with 16 votes, while Kumar received 12 votes. However, there was a stir of controversy when Anil Masih, the returning officer, ruled that eight ballots from the coalition partners were tampered with, leading to allegations of ballot stuffing. A member of the BJP’s minority cell named Mr. Masih was seen in a widely circulated video annotating votes for AAP councillors. In a hearing on February 5, the Supreme Court criticised his conduct as an obvious “mockery of democracy.”

A bench of the Supreme Court, composed of Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra under Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, raised grave concerns over the purported “horse-trading” and resolved to review the ballots and the video recording of the counting procedure. Instead of calling for new polls right now, the court recommended that the results be declared using the votes that have already been cast.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court’s registrar general was also called by the court to produce the records in New Delhi today.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, speaking on behalf of the Chandigarh government, suggested during the hearing that a new election be held with oversight from a judge chosen by the High Court. After careful consideration, the bench did, however, incline towards concluding the election process at the point just prior to the results being announced. The court recommended that a judicial officer be appointed to supervise the tallying of the ballots and to take no notice of any tampering by the returning officer.

After then, attention turned on Anil Masih, who was charged with tampering with the ballot papers. For the first time in the history of independent India, the Chief Justice expressed dissatisfaction with the manner the election was handled during the cross-examination of the returning officer. The court called Masih’s acts a grave breach of the democratic process and strongly cautioned him that he might be prosecuted for them.

“Mr Masih, I am asking you questions. If you don’t give truthful answers, you will be prosecuted. This is a serious matter. We have seen the video. What were you doing looking at the camera and putting cross marks on the ballot papers? Why were you putting the marks?” Chief Justice Chandrachud asked.

Kuldeep Kumar, the AAP’s lost mayoral candidate, filed a case in the Supreme Court contesting the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s denial of temporary respite for a new election. The High Court was subsequently chastised by the Supreme Court for failing to provide an interim order.

In an admissional moment, Mr. Masih clarified that the markings were used to distinguish between ballots that had been vandalised. “Why did you deface the ballot papers? You only had to sign the papers. Where is it provided in the rules that you can put other marks on the ballot papers,” questioned Chief Justice Chandrachud.

Solicitor General Mehta found himself caught in the crossfire as the Chief Justice asserted, “Mr Solicitor, he (Mr Masih) has to be prosecuted. He is interfering with the election process.”

“What we propose to do is this. We will direct the Deputy Commissioner to appoint a fresh returning officer, who is not aligned to any political party,” declared Chief Justice Chandrachud.

Invoking the court’s involvement, Solicitor General Mehta brought attention to purportedly ripped or defaced voting papers. This was refuted by Kuldeep Kumar’s attorney, who stated that just eight ballots were ripped and needed to be examined. The Supreme Court then decided to review the disputed documents today and required that they be presented with sufficient protection.

“The process of horsetrading which is going on is a serious matter,” the Chief Justice said.

The Supreme Court postponed making a decision on whether to hold new elections or uphold the results of the previous ones.

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