Supreme Court declares AAP leader as Mayor of Chandigarh

Top court sets aside results, initiates action against Returning Officer for ‘defacing’ ballot papers; Bench says it would not tolerate ‘subterfuges’ that destroy electoral democracy even at local levels

February 20, 2024 04:18 pm | Updated February 21, 2024 01:57 am IST - New Delhi

AAP Councillor Kuldeep Kumar celebrates following the Supreme Court results on February 20, 2024. Photo: X/@ANI

AAP Councillor Kuldeep Kumar celebrates following the Supreme Court results on February 20, 2024. Photo: X/@ANI

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that it would not tolerate “subterfuges” that destroy electoral democracy even at the local level, while declaring the Aam Aadmi Party’s Kuldeep Kumar as the new Mayor of the Union Territory of Chandigarh.

A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud initiated action against Anil Masih, the Returning Officer who presided over the controversial mayoral elections on January 30 whose “defacement” of eight ballot papers was caught on security cameras. Mr. Masih’s “furtive” conduct had swung the electoral results in favour of the BJP’s Manoj Sonkar. The Supreme Court had intervened on February 5 to sequester the ballot papers and video records of the polling day.

By declaring Mr. Kumar as Chandigarh Mayor in a single stroke on Tuesday, the court dashed the BJP’s hopes for fresh polls to the municipal corporation.

Preserving democratic mandate

On February 19, Chief Justice Chandrachud had voiced “deep concern” about the “horse trading taking place”. His remark was made in reference to the sudden shift of allegiances of three AAP councillors to the BJP, coinciding with Mr. Sonkar’s resignation as Mayor on the eve of the SC hearing.

Also read | Travesty in Chandigarh: On mayoral election and the Supreme Court of India’s remarks

“This court is duty-bound in exercise of its powers to do complete justice under Article 142 to ensure that the process of electoral democracy is not thwarted by such subterfuges. Allowing such a state of affairs to take place would be destructive of the most valued principles of democracy our country depends on,” Chief Justice Chandrachud observed.

The Bench said that what had happened at the mayoral elections was an “exceptional situation”.

“The court must step in to ensure that the basic mandate of the electoral democracy, albeit, at the local participatory level, is preserved,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.

No need for fresh polls

The decision to declare Mr. Kumar as the winner was taken immediately after perusing the eight ballot papers specially brought to the court. The Bench said that the eight votes were clearly cast for Mr. Kumar, taking his tally to a majority 20 votes out of a total 36 polled. Mr. Masih’s declaration of Mr. Sonkar as winner was quashed and set aside.

The court agreed with Punjab Advocate General Gurminder Singh, senior advocate A.M. Singhvi and advocate Shadan Farasat that there was no need to call for fresh polls as that would only work to compound the “serious misdemeanour” of Mr. Masih. It said the aberration was only in the counting of votes by the Returning Officer.

The court said that Mr. Masih’s misconduct, by “making a single line in ink by way of a mark in the bottom half of the eight ballot papers so that these votes would be treated as invalid”, led to the “destruction of the fundamental democratic principles”.

‘Must be held accountable’

The Bench played the raucous video recording of the polling day on open screens placed around the courtroom for the benefit of all present, including Mr. Masih.

The Bench concluded that Mr. Masih misused his capacity as a Returning Officer to unlawfully alter the course of the mayoral elections. He further made a “patently false statement” in the Supreme Court on February 19 that the eight ballot papers were already defaced by the time they had reached him.

“He has to be held accountable… He could not have been unmindful of the fact that he was making a statement prima facie false to his own knowledge,” Chief Justice Chandrachud told senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, Mr. Masih’s counsel.

The Bench ordered the Supreme Court Registrar (Judicial) to issue a show cause notice to Mr. Masih under Section 340 (conduct affecting the administration of justice) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. He was given three weeks to submit his response to the show cause notice.

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