Certified copy of Returning Officer’s order validating his candidature reaches Sangma camp

The controversy over the “letter of resignation” of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) nominee for the Presidential poll Pranab Mukherjee, relating to his quitting from the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata, persists, with the Sangma camp getting a certified copy of the order passed by the Returning Officer on July 3 validating Mr. Mukherjee’s candidature, despite objections from the opposite camp.

The Sangma camp’s contention is that Mr. Mukherjee had not quit the ISI before filing his nomination and his paper should have been rejected by the RO as the post of ISI Chairman (which Mr. Mukherjee held) was an “office of profit,” which disqualified the holder of the post from contesting the Presidential election. An exemption could be made only for election as a Member of Parliament, they argued.

Earlier in the afternoon, the RO, V.K. Agnihotri, wrote to the Election Commission on the request made by the Sangma camp about the certified copy, for which the EC wrote back stating that the relevant order may be provided, on request. EC sources maintained that the RO could have decided on the request of the Sangma camp on his own as he had ample powers in this regard.

No official seal

Biju Janata Dal (BJD) Lok Sabha member Bhartruhari Mahteb, who is the Chief Election Agent of Mr. Sangma, wondered why the RO, in his order, did not refer to the objection raised on the genuineness of the signature of Prof. M.G.K. Menon, president of ISI. Doubts were raised on this during scrutiny.

Similarly, the resignation letter that was addressed to Mr. Menon with the address mentioned as ISI, Kolkata, had no office seal of the ISI or letter number or any other entry, and it simply carried “accepted” with the “signature” of Mr. Menon, Mr. Mahteb alleged and added that this raised doubts on how Mr. Menon decided on it on “June 20, 2012.” His stand was that Mr. Mukherjee’s resignation letter to the ISI was prepared hurriedly only after the Sangma camp raised doubts and this was done to save Mr. Mukherjee’s nomination papers.

RO move final: EC

Meanwhile, sources in the Election Commission said it had only limited role in the process of the Presidential poll, and the RO’s decision on the acceptance or rejection of the nomination was final. Any dispute on this could be raised only before the Supreme Court as an election petition after the poll.

‘Options open’

BJP legal cell head and Mr. Sangma’s counsel Satya Pal Jain said: “All options are open... election petition can be filed after the declaration of results.”

Mr. Jain claimed that at the time of filing nomination, Mr. Mukherjee was holding an office of profit as ISI Chairman.

On Mr. Menon accepting the “resignation letter,” Mr. Jain said: “It is not valid. Mr. Menon is not competent to accept the resignation as Mr. Mukherjee had been elected by the Board of Directors of the ISI.” As per provisions of the Constitution, Mr. Mukherjee could not contest the Presidential poll and his nomination should be nullified.

However, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, who is the chief election agent of Mr. Mukherjee, dismissed the BJP’s charge as “frivolous, scandalous and legally untenable” and asked it not to undermine the dignity of the Presidential poll by indulging in such “tricks.”

Up to tricks: Tewari

Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said: “When you realise that winning the election is absolutely impossible, then you deploy such tricks. The Opposition nominee [P.A. Sangma] and the parties supporting his candidature should seriously ponder. This is not an election for student bodies in schools and colleges but Presidential poll and should be fought with the dignity attached with it.”

Home Minister P. Chidambaram described as “scandalous” the BJP’s charge and he [Mr. Mukherjee] must surely have taken note of this allegation levelled against him.

BJP charges denied

Thiruvananthapuram Special Correspondent reports:

Mr. Mukherjee, who arrived here on Wednesday to meet the MLAs and MPs supporting him in the election, denied the BJP’s allegations that the signature on his resignation letter to the ISI was forged.

“Who has forged my signature? Myself? I put my signature on it [the resignation letter]. Who can forge his own signature?” Mr. Mukherjee asked, responding to questions at an interactive session with mediapersons. “This issue we have debated at the office of the returning officer and the returning officer has responded to that… Somebody forged the signature of another person, then that person should complain. How can somebody lodge a complaint that you forged your own signature,” he said. To repeated questions, Mr. Mukherjee said his authorised representatives had replied to the allegations and that he had nothing more to add to it.

Mr. Mukherjee appealed to the other parties to support his candidature.

Asked why his magic had failed to work with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, he said every political party took a decision on the basis of its assessment of the political situation. Their decisions were not based on policies which have a prominent place in general elections. Policy issues were debated only during the general elections, he said. “I hope she will take a decision at the appropriate time and her decision will be in my favour.”

On the CPI(M)’s support for his candidature despite its opposition to his economic policies, he said these were the UPA II’s economic policies and not his. “The President has no politics and that is why he resigned and was given a farewell as the oldest member of the Congress Working Committee,” he said.

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