DC Edit | Chandigarh mayoral polls raise troubling questions

The Chandigarh mayoral election faces controversy and allegations of malfeasance, with claims of irregularities in the counting process

In normal circumstances, the elections to the post of mayor for Chandigarh would not have elicited attention beyond the urban confines of the common capital of Punjab and Haryana. At best, the winning party and its followers would have celebrated it online. But instead, given that the procedure of counting and announcing results has raised dust, instead of being conducted in a way as to be above reproach, it has become a national issue.

It is seldom surprising if any political party or leader tries to cavil about an election procedure after a defeat, and so it is with the INDIA alliance candidate backed by the Opposition parties, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party, which were locked in a direct fight against the BJP. But the storm raised with videos being circulated, claims and counter-claims, allegations and counter-allegations, the entire process is now under doubt, and that is seldom a good outcome for democracy, especially one with a much larger nationwide general election looming ahead.

As the results stand, based on the final pronouncement of the presiding officer of the Chandigarh mayoral election, the BJP councillor, Manoj Sonkar, won getting 16 out of 36 votes, with eight votes being found invalid. He defeated Kuldeep Kumar, the combined nominee of the Congress and AAP, who, it was declared, received only 12 votes. Given that the number of invalid votes is greater than the margin of victory, there is a prima facie circumstantial evidence to consider the Opposition’s complaints.

The election has come to be shrouded with mystery and accusations of malfeasance against Anil Masih, the presiding officer, who, it is alleged, tick-marked some of the votes, and then declared them as cancelled. Some supporters of the ruling BJP and the victor claimed that the officer ticked only those votes which were valid.

The elections for the post of the Chandigarh mayor were controversial even prior to the happenings on Tuesday. Earlier, the high court had to intervene, because the polls were originally scheduled for January 18, but declared delayed for the purported reason of indisposition of the presiding officer. The Opposition voiced its protests against it, and it was set for January 30, as opposed to the date of February 6 as decided by the presiding officer appointed by the high court.

The poll also had an interesting sidelight that a request by a councillor of the Shiromani Akali Dal sought Nota as an option, but was rejected on the basis that such a provision does not exist in the law for municipal elections.

After the results were announced, the Opposition went on an overdrive, not just on the election at hand, but expressing similar misgivings about the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, alleging that, since the BJP had manipulated an election it had lost to the Congress-AAP combine, it could resort to the same for a bigger poll.

AAP boss Arvind Kejriwal dubbed it a “black day” for democracy. The Opposition parties also jointly filed a petition in court, expressing doubts about the conduct of the polls, which will be considered by the court, which has nonetheless refused to stay the election.

Rejecting the Opposition allegations, the newly-elected mayor, Manoj Sonkar, who as per reports has only studied up to Class 7 but runs a successful liquor business, said: “When they lose, they level allegations. Everything is on camera. They couldn’t digest defeat.” Anil Masih, presiding officer, also rejected the allegations.

Either way, the intensity of allegations and fight over a mayoral election portends the nature of the larger political face-off.

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