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Explained: Why Did Supreme Court Declare AAP’s Kuldeep Kumar Winner In Chandigarh Mayoral Elections, What Led To Controversy?

The Supreme Court also ordered that Anil Masih, the returning officer for the Chandigarh mayoral elections, will be prosecuted for deliberately tampering and defacing the ballot papers.

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PTI
Anil Masih, Returning Officer for Chandigarh mayoral election, at the Supreme Court for a hearing in the alleged tampering in the election, in New Delhi, Monday Photo: PTI
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In a significant development surrounding the Chandigarh mayoral polls, the Supreme Court on Tuesday confirmed that the eight votes which were invalidated by Returning Officer (RO) Anil Masih were all cast in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Kuldeep Kumar, and has declared Kumar as the winner of the pools and Mayor of Chandigarh.

On February 19, the SC had asked that the ballot papers which were invalidated by Masih and the video which showed him marking the papers be produced.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, Justice J B Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra had expressed grave concerns after watching the video of the electoral proceedings and where the returning officer could be seen “defacing" the ballot papers.

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The Supreme Court on Monday said Masih must be prosecuted as he was interfering with the election process which was captured on video. During the hearing,  Masih admitted to tampering saying he put 'X' marks on eight ballot papers, because they had already been ‘defaced’. CJI Chandrachud further rained down on Masih owing to his actions which were caught on camera and questioned him on why he was marking the ballot papers instead of signing them.

Chandrachud had also expressed “deep concerns” about the horse-trading which has been taking place.

Significance Of Chandigarh Polls

The Chandigarh mayoral polls, which took place on January 30 saw BJP candidate Manoj Sonkar emerge victorious with 16 votes against AAP’s Kuldeep Kumar with 12 votes. The election was also a significant litmus test for the INDIA bloc as it was the first time the AAP and Congress were running together against the BJP in a rehearsal for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. Before the polls, among the 35 seats in the House, the alliance looked settled with AAP's 13 and Congress' seven against BJP's 14 votes. However, eight votes were invalidated by Masih, which helped Sonkar sweep the polls. 

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The AAP and Congress boycotted the subsequent election for the deputy mayor and senior deputy mayor, which the BJP eventually won as well. A day before the hearing which took place on February 19, Manoj Sonkar resigned from the mayoral chair. On the same day, three AAP councillors deflected to BJP.

What AAP had to say

Accusing the BJP and Masih, former BJP general secretary of the minority morcha cell turned nominated councillor, of poll rigging and electoral malpractice, the opposition took to the Punjab and Haryana HC, and the SC. Following SC's verdict, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal took to X to post " Thank you SC for saving democracy in these difficult times."

Earlier, following Sonkar's resignation on the eve of the hearing at the apex court, Kejriwal had said, "The mayor's resignation makes it clear that there was manipulation in the election. If the election is not won, our councillors are being purchased and broken," .

"This is how they win other elections too; if they don’t, they buy leaders from the winning party. How will a democratic country function if elections are won unfairly? They should let the party that won the elections run the government,” he added, in a press meet outside the Delhi Assembly.

"In the Chandigarh Mayor elections, on one side there is a candidate of nation's smallest political party AAP and on the other side there is a candidate of world's largest political party BJP. The world is witnessing the BJP's greed for power," said AAP leader Saurabh Bharadwaj regarding Sonkar's resignation.

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In an important episode leading up to the Lok Sabha elections, the court noting that the votes invalidated were all cast in favour of AAP's Kumar and declaring him as the mayor of Chandigarh, stands to be a significant win for the opposition alliance while exposing the BJP-led NDA to serious criticism on the electoral front.

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