‘A murder of democracy... a mockery of purity of elections’: Supreme Court remarks on conduct of Chandigarh mayoral polls

Reprimanding the Returning Officer for the mayoral polls, the SC says he has to be ‘prosecuted’; warns that the court is ‘watching over him’

February 05, 2024 08:22 pm | Updated 09:06 pm IST - NEW DELHI

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

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

The Supreme Court gave the BJP victory at Chandigarh mayoral elections a jolt, threatening to order fresh elections after a video played in the open courtroom on Monday showed the Returning Officer “obviously defacing” ballot papers, while taking stealthy glances at the camera overhead like a “fugitive”.

“What is he doing? It is obvious that he has defaced the ballot. This man has to be prosecuted… Why is he looking at the camera like a fugitive and then quietly defacing the ballot? This is a mockery of democracy… He is murdering democracy. Is this the way to conduct an election?” Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, heading a three-judge Bench, addressed Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Union Territory of Chandigarh, and senior advocate Maninder Singh, for the winning candidates.

The Supreme Court directed the sequestration of the entire records of the mayoral elections under the custody of the Registrar-General of the Punjab and Haryana High Court forthwith by 5 p.m. on February 5. These records include the ballot papers and the whole video shot of the electoral process.

The court also stopped the new dispensation of the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation from holding a budget meeting on February 7.

“Please tell your Returning Officer that the Supreme Court is watching over him. We will not allow democracy to be murdered like this. The great stabilising force in the country is the purity of the election process… What is happening here?” Chief Justice Chandrachud asked.

Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, appearing for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) councillor Kuldeep Kumar, said the election process was videographed on the orders of the High Court.

He said there were 20 AAP councillors and 16 BJP ones. The Returning Officer was supposed to sign on each ballot paper after the vote.

Also Read: Chandigarh mayoral polls | HC issues notice to Chandigarh administration, Municipal Corporation; denies interim relief

“He makes squiggles on eight ballot papers and uses his own squiggles to disqualify the votes. Our votes are reduced to 12 and BJP wins the polls with a margin of four votes. After the voting, he picks up the whole lot of ballot papers and rushes out… This is a complete negation of democracy,” Mr. Singhvi submitted.

He said the Returning Officer is “admittedly an active member of the BJP”.

Punjab Advocate-General Gurminder Singh said “the man [Returning Officer] has to be prosecuted”.

Mr. Singh began in defence to refer to certain regulations on the conduct of elections while Mr. Mehta said they would be able to “satisfy” the court. He said the Bench should not form an opinion without viewing the entire video.

“We are here to satisfy our judicial conscience. If we are not satisfied, we will direct the conduct of fresh elections and appoint the Returning Officer… Mr. Solicitor, this is a mockery of democracy… a mockery! The man defaces the ballot and looks at the camera to see who is looking at him…” the Chief Justice retorted, listing the case on February 19.

The BJP had swept the Chandigarh mayoral elections, retaining all three posts, in a setback to the Congress-AAP alliance that alleged tampering with ballot papers by the Presiding Officer.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court had earlier refused to grant the AAP any interim relief.

The AAP has sought fresh election under the supervision of a retired judge.

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