Supreme Court's "No Fresh Poll" Proposal Amid Chandigarh Vote-Count Row

The controversy broke after a video showed Mr Masih - at the time a member of the BJP's Minority Cell - writing on eight ballot papers - from AAP councillors - before entering them into record.

Supreme Court's 'No Fresh Poll' Proposal Amid Chandigarh Vote-Count Row
New Delhi:

The eight "defaced" ballot papers - from last month's controversial Chandigarh mayoral election - which are at the heart of a bitter politico-legal fight between the AAP and the BJP must be produced in the Supreme Court at 10.30 am Tuesday, Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said this evening.

The court said "no fresh poll" will be required as it attempts to settle the dispute over the outcome of the election, which saw the Bharatiya Janata Party's Manoj Sonkar elected Mayor with a four-vote margin after eight ballots by Aam Aadmi Party councillors were declared "invalid" without apparent cause.

"What we propose to do is this... we will direct the Deputy Commissioner to appoint a fresh Returning Officer, one who is not aligned to any political party. The process shall be taken to the logical conclusion from the stage it stopped before the declaration of results," the Chief Justice said.

"Let the results be declared disregarding any mark put by the (original) Returning Officer (Anil Masih). Let the process be overseen judicially by the (Punjab and Haryana) High Court," he said.

READ | In A First, Chief Justice Cross-Examines Poll Officer In Vote-Count Row

To this, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Chandigarh administration, said, "I am told some are torn or defaced. Let the High Court see...", but the Supreme Court was unconvinced.

The petitioner, the AAP's unsuccessful mayoral candidate, Kuldeep Kumar, pointed out that only eight ballot papers had be to studied, and added, "They are not torn."

"We will ask the Registrar General of the High Court (which had been instructed by the Supreme Court to gather and preserve all records) to nominate any officer who shall be present tomorrow with the ballot papers... we will see the ballot papers for ourselves," the Chief Justice insisted.

READ | Chandigarh Poll Officer Must Be Prosecuted: Court In Vote-Count Row

The court's attempt to settle this matter has been seen by many as a possible blow to the BJP, which would have been in a strong position had a re-election been ordered. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party was well short of majority in the January 31 poll, but the poaching of three AAP lawmakers - Poonam Devi, Neha, and Gurcharan Kala - has given them the definite upper hand.

In the 35-member Municipal Corporation, the BJP now has 17 votes. Add a Akali Dal councillor, and the Chandigarh Lok Sabha MP - who has voting rights as an ex-officio member - it has 19.

READ | BJP Wins Chandigarh Mayor Poll In First Battle Versus INDIA Bloc

After the trio of defections, the AAP has only 10, and its ally, the Congress, has seven.

A fresh election will see the BJP at a narrow but crucial advantage.

READ | Advantage BJP As Chandigarh Mayor Quits, 3 AAP Councilors Join

The three ex-AAP members' switch to the BJP has also renewed talk about 'horse-trading'.

"The scare was that this will lead to horse-trading... that has happened now," the petitioner said, to which the Chief Justice acknowledged the seriousness of the allegation.

Meanwhile, the court also made strong observations about Mr Masih's role in this controversy, after calling his actions a "mockery of democracy" in an earlier hearing.

Add image caption here

Returning Officer Anil Masih told the Supreme Court he put an 'X' on eight ballot papers.

The controversy broke after a video showed Mr Masih - at the time a member of the BJP's Minority Cell - writing on eight ballot papers - from AAP councillors - before entering them into record.

READ | Supreme Court's Big Remark: What Happened In Chandigarh Mayor Poll?

By doing so, the AAP argued then and senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi in court today, he had invalidated votes in an election the party was widely expected to win comfortably.

The BJP has vehemently denied these allegations.

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