Chandigarh Poll Recount, 8 Invalidated Votes To Be Counted: Supreme Court

The Bharatiya Janata Party had claimed a surprise win in January's Chandigarh mayoral election after eight votes - in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party - were discarded.

Chandigarh Poll Recount, 8 Invalidated Votes To Be Counted: Supreme Court

Anil Masih was the Returning Officer for the January 31 Chandigarh mayoral election (File).

New Delhi:

Chief Justice DY Chandrachud has said the Supreme Court will direct a recount of votes from last month's Chandigarh mayoral election, and include eight - all in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party - declared "invalid" by Returning Officer Anil Masih, who was caught on camera 'marking' those ballots.

A bench led by the Chief Justice on Tuesday examined the eight ballot papers and, as it did so, strongly rebuked Mr Masih, whom the Bharatiya Janata Party last week removed from its Minority Cell. The BJP had claimed a surprise win - by four votes - after those eight were discarded.

The court began today's hearing by asking Mr Masih to point out how the eight ballots were "defaced"; Mr Masih had said he marked the papers because he noticed they were "defaced".

Mr Masih told the court he wanted to ensure these "defaced" ballots were not counted.

"Yesterday you said these ballot paper were defaced. Can you show us where?" the Chief Justice asked, as he showed the eight to Mr Masih and his lawyer, as well as other parties in the hearing.

"All eight have received the stamp for Kuldeep Kumar (the AAP candidate)... the votes are cast for Mr Kumar. What he (Mr Masih) does is... he puts a single line. Just one line, as seen in the video."

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At this point senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, appearing for Mr Kumar, cried foul, and said Mr Masih's actions amounted to "contempt of court". "This is a heinous crime..." he declared.

"This person (Anil Masih) had the gall to do it on video... keep quiet (about it) and then come to court and think he can get away (with it). He was misleading all of us," Mr Singhvi continued.

The controversy broke after a video showed Mr Masih writing on the eight ballots in question.

That video was replayed in the courtroom this afternoon, and, once again, wanted to know why Mr Masih double-marked the ballot papers. Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Mr Masih, replied, "... he assessed that certain ballots were invalid. He is not a thief... it was his assessment."

"An imaginary assessment!" Mr Singhvi shot back.

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In an earlier hearing the court called Mr Masih's actions "mockery of democracy", and told Solictor General Tushar Mehta, arguing for the Chandigarh administration, "... he has to be prosecuted".

READ | "Why Did You Put X Mark?" Court Asks Chandigarh Poll Officer

Chandigarh Mayoral Election

The BJP's Manoj Sonkar was declared the winner after the contentious counting of votes.

Polling officials gave Mr Sonkar 16 votes to Mr Kumar's 12; had the eight votes been counted, as the Supreme Court has directed, the AAP candidate would have recorded a comfortable win.

The video of Mr Masih marking the ballots - at one point he appears to realise his actions are being recorded by CCTVs - was widely shared online, triggering furious criticism by the AAP and Congress.

Since then three AAP councillors have sided with the BJP, significantly changing the equation in this election. The BJP now has 19 votes in the 35-member house, including that of the Chandigarh Lok Sabha MP, who has voting rights as an ex-officio member. The AAP-Congress have only 17.

If the court is to order a re-election - which has been sought by Mr Sonkar, the BJP candidate who was elected, and quickly resigned, as Mayor, the saffron party will win easily.

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