Chandigarh mayoral election: No interim relief from HC, Aam Aadmi Party to move SC

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Chandigarh, Jan 31 (PTI) The Aam Aadmi Party on Wednesday failed to get any interim relief from the Punjab and Haryana High Court on its plea for setting aside the Chandigarh mayoral election and said it will approach the Supreme Court for an early hearing.

The Congress and AAP held a protest here and a police complaint was also filed on behalf of their joint mayoral candidate and AAP councillor Kuldeep Kumar against the presiding officer, accusing him of tampering with ballot papers in the Tuesday election to favour the BJP which retained all three seats.

A division bench of justices Sudhir Singh and Harsh Bunger, which was hearing a plea filed by Kumar, issued notices to the Chandigarh administration, the municipal corporation, presiding officer Anil Masih and new mayor Manoj Sonkar, among others, to file their replies within three weeks and adjourned the matter till February 26.

Chandigarh administration senior standing counsel Anil Mehta told reporters that the court refused to give any interim relief to the petitioner.

"We have been given a three-week time to file a response and we will do so," said Mehta. He added that the issue regarding the maintainability of the petition was still pending.

Kumar in his plea has sought fresh elections under the supervision of a retired high court judge, alleging tampering with ballot papers by the presiding officer. Both the officer and BJP have rubbished the allegations.

The petitioner has also sought an investigation by an independent investigation agency into the "entire fraud" committed during the election process.

"We will move Supreme Court. We will seek an early hearing in the matter. There is a video of the whole thing," AAP leader and Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann told reporters and wondered why the Chandigarh administration required three weeks to prepare a report.

The party announced a protest outside the BJP headquarters in Delhi on February 2 in which AAP convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Mann will participate.

The petitioner's counsel, Gurminder Singh, said the high court issued notices and gave three weeks to respondents to file their replies.

"Our prayer's ambit was that the mayoral poll result be set aside and free and fair elections be held," said Singh who is also the Punjab Advocate General.

According to the plea, the "election was not held in a free and fair manner and there was a gross violation while counting of votes, with tampering of the ballot papers".

The petitioner sought directions to respondents to seal, preserve and present before the HC the entire process of the election, including the record of ballot papers and proceedings of the election process and videography done on Tuesday.

BJP candidate Manoj Sonkar had defeated AAP's Kuldeep Kumar for the mayor's post, polling 16 votes against 12. Eight votes were declared invalid.

The plea sought directions to restrain Sonkar from discharging the functions of mayor of the Chandigarh municipal corporation as the entire process of election was "vitiated by fraud." The Congress and the AAP had predicted an easy victory in the 35-member House of the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation, projecting it as an early test for the INDIA bloc.

The BJP has 14 councillors in the 35-member corporation. Its Chandigarh MP Kirron Kher also has voting rights as an ex-officio member. AAP has 13 councillors, the Congress seven and the Shiromani Akali Dal one.

BJP nominees Kuljit Sandhu and Rajinder Sharma were also declared elected to the posts of senior deputy mayor and deputy mayor, respectively. But the results sparked angry reaction from the opposition which accused the BJP of rigging the elections and undermining democracy in the country.

The polls, originally scheduled for January 18, were deferred to February 6 by the Chandigarh administration after the presiding officer fell ill.

The high court on January 24 directed the administration to hold the mayoral polls at 10 am on January 30. While quashing the order postponing the elections, the court called it "unreasonable, unjustified and arbitrary".

On Wednesday, leaders and workers of AAP and Congress gathered near the Sector 17 police station close to the municipal corporation building. Heavy police force was deployed and barricades were erected near the police station.

The protesters demanded action against presiding officer Masih.

Senior Congress leader Pawan Kumar Bansal, Chandigarh Congress president H S Lucky and several AAP leaders joined the protest.

"We have given a complaint to the police. This is against the presiding officer and the manner in which the election was conducted," Lucky told reporters. PTI SUN CHS VSD SLB RT