SC overturns Chandigarh mayoral poll result after BJP leader admits to tampering with ballot

BJP's Anil Masih, who was the returning officer, admitted to tampering with ballot papers. Photo: Screengrab

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned the result of the Chandigarh mayoral poll in which the BJP candidate had emerged an unlikely winner, and declared defeated AAP-Congress alliance candidate Kuldeep Kumar as the new city mayor.

It also ordered prosecution of the returning officer for the poll, Anil Masih, a BJP leader, for his "misdemeanour", after finding serious faults in the conduct of the January 30 election. Masih admitted to tampering with the ballots.

The apex court made it clear that it was not quashing the entire electoral exercise and restricting itself to dealing with the wrong-doings in the counting process which led to invalidation of eight votes cast in Kumar's favour.

A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said it was evident that Masih made deliberate attempt to deface eight ballot papers.

The BJP had won the mayoral poll defeating the comfortably placed AAP-Congress alliance candidate after the returning officer declared as invalid eight votes of the coalition partners, drawing accusations of tampering with ballots.

BJP's Anil Masih, Returning Officer for Chandigarh mayoral election, at the Supreme Court for a hearing in the alleged tampering in the election. Photo: PTI

Manoj Sonkar of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had defeated Kuldeep Kumar after polling 16 votes against his rival's 12 to bag the mayor's post. Sonkar, however, resigned subsequently, while three AAP councillors defected to the BJP.

Timeline of events
Jan 18, 2024: Chandigarh administration defers mayoral polls to February 6 after the presiding officer falls sick.

Jan 19: The Aam Aadmi Party moves Punjab and Haryana High Court, challenging the postponement of the election.

Jan 24: The high court quashes an order to postpone mayoral polls, advancing the date to January 30. It orders videography of proceedings.

Jan 30: Polls begin with the BJP's Manoj Sonkar pitted against AAP-Congress alliance candidate Kuldeep Kumar. Sonkar gets 16 votes and defeats Kumar who secured 12. Eight votes, cast in favour of Kumar, were declared invalid by Returning Officer Anil Masih.

AAP councillor Kuldeep Kumar after the Supreme Court declared him as winner and Mayor of union territory of Chandigarh on Tuesday. Photo: PTI

Jan 30: The AAP moves Punjab and Haryana HC, seeks fresh election.

Jan 31: HC refuses interim relief. It issues notices to the Chandigarh administration. It posts the plea of the AAP councillor for a hearing after three weeks.

Feb 5: After AAP candidate moves SC against HC order refusing interim relief, the apex court takes strong note of Masih's conduct and directs the preservation of ballots. It orders the registrar general of the high court to take possession of records.

Feb 18: BJP leader Manoj Sonkar resigns as Chandigarh mayor and three AAP councillors defect to BJP.

Feb 19: SC poses searching questions to the returning officer. It orders the High Court's registrar general to appoint a judicial officer to bring records including video of the poll process for its perusal.

Feb 20: SC exercises its plenary power under Article 142 of the Constitution, and overturns the result. It declares defeated Kuldeep Kumar as the new mayor and orders the prosecution of the returning officer.

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