Chandigarh: BJP Wins Mayoral Polls; Cong-AAP Cry Foul After 8 Votes of INDIA Bloc Declared ‘Invalid’

Chandigarh: BJP Wins Mayoral Polls; Cong-AAP Cry Foul After 8 Votes of INDIA Bloc Declared ‘Invalid’

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Manoj Sonkar of the BJP won the Chandigarh mayoral elections on Tuesday, after eight votes of the INDIA bloc were declared invalid. The saffron party also won the deputy mayoral and senior deputy mayoral polls, after a boycott by the AAP and Congress that alleged “unfair” means.

All eyes were on the opposition front amid numerous setbacks it has faced in recent days, the latest being the departure of its architect, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. This was the first election where bitter rivals, the Congress and AAP, had agreed to contest together making it a big step towards building confidence; especially considering that, in Punjab, chief minister Bhagwant Mann has refused to share seats with the grand old party for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Sonkar was declared the winner with 16 votes, while the BJP had a total of 14 + 1 votes. Perhaps, Shiromani Akali Dal’s one vote went in its favour. The AAP and Congress had 13 and seven votes each, but got a total of 12 votes after eight were declared invalid.

‘Deeply worrying’

Soon after the results were declared, AAP boss Arvind Kejriwal alleged that the mayoral elections in the union territory, which is the capital of Punjab and Haryana, were conducted in an “unfair manner”.

“The unfair manner and dishonesty in broad daylight in the Chandigarh mayor elections is extremely worrying. If these people can stoop so low in a mayor’s election, they can go to any extent in the country’s elections. This is very worrying,” he said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

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Punjab’s AAP MP Sandeep Pathak also alleged “dishonesty” in the Chandigarh mayoral election, calling it “deeply concerning”. “…If these malpractices can occur in a local election, it raises serious questions about the integrity of our national elections. This is extremely alarming and calls for a thorough examination of our electoral processes,” he said in a post on X.

Congress MP and former minister Pawan Bansal also took to X and said: “The worst fears of unabashed tempering by the BJP’s councillor-presiding officer in a premeditated and planned intrigue to murder democracy have come true in Chandigarh mayoral elections. Agent of the Congress-AAP candidate was not allowed to see the ballot papers, the presiding officer announced rejection of eight votes, declared BJP candidate winner and went away. BJP members rushed to the table and tore off the ballot papers,” Bansal said in a post on X. (sic)

He added: “The job normally undertaken by the secretary MC was all carried out by the presiding officer, no one else, including counting agents of the candidates, were called to inspect the ballot papers and he abetted in the mayor’s position being blatantly usurped by the BJP candidate.”

However, the BJP claimed a big victory, the first over the INDIA bloc. “Congratulations to @BJP4Chandigarh Unit for winning the Mayor election. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi Ji, UTs have witnessed record development. That the INDI Alliance fought their first electoral battle and still lost to BJP shows that neither their arithmetic is working nor their chemistry,” said BJP national president JP Nadda on X.

The AAP has alleged irregularities in the elections and also questioned why eight votes were rejected as invalid. The party is mulling moving the court. It alleged that election agents for neither the BJP nor the AAP or the Congress were present during the counting of votes. The presiding officer, Anil Masih, ignored the demands for party agents to be present during the counting.

The AAP and Congress had protested and moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court against the deferred elections. The court had directed the Chandigarh administration to hold the elections on January 30.

The election process began around 10 am while voting began at approximately 10 minutes past 11 am. BJP MP Kirron Kher was the first to cast her vote and the whole process was videographed to ensure transparency.

On Monday (January 29), AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, when asked about Nitish Kumar’s U-turn, said: “I feel, Nitish ji should not have left, whatever he did is not right. This kind of conduct is not right for democracy. However, according to my understanding, this will lead to a massive loss for the BJP in Bihar. Even though elections will finally reveal the impact, I feel NDA will lose heavily and the INDIA bloc would benefit. Tomorrow, perhaps, the INDIA bloc’s first win will come from Chandigarh.”

In 2023, the BJP’s Anuj Gupta had won the mayor elections after seven Congress councillors abstained from voting. The mayoral elections were originally scheduled for January 18, but postponed to February 6 after the presiding officer from the BJP said they were unable to conduct the polls due to illness just when the voting was about to begin. While the BJP has held the mayor’s post for the past eight years, it also has 14 councillors in the 35-member municipal corporation of Chandigarh.

The mayoral elections are conducted through a secret ballot. For the 2024 election, third of the term, the mayor’s post was reserved for the scheduled caste category.

Once again, mayoral election case reaches HC

The INDIA bloc demanded sealing of the records of the election results and an immediate hearing of this petition.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court, however, refused to hold the hearing on Tuesday and said the concerned bench will hear it on Wednesday (January 31).

In the afternoon, senior Congress leader Pawan Bansal and AAP MP Raghav Chadha held a joint press conference. Training guns at the BJP, Chadha said: “We saw in the Chandigarh mayoral elections, it was not merely something that was unconstitutional or illegal, it was ‘rashtradroh’, ‘deshdroh’. The rigging, the illegality that we have seen in the Chandigarh mayoral elections, can only be defined as ‘rashtradroh’.

Chadha alleged that the BJP did everything it could to win these elections – from nominating its minority wing secretary as the presiding officer to deferring the elections on January 18 and attempting to poach councillors.

He added that during the elections, when the voting process was over, the BJP office-bearer and presiding officer did not allow any election agent of any party to come forward.

“Then you saw how the BJP’s presiding officer dabbed the ballot papers with ink and declared them illegal, adding that, for the first time in the history of the Chandigarh mayoral polls, eight votes were declared invalid. We had 20 votes, eight were declared invalid, and yet not one vote of the BJP was declared invalid. The BJP had 16, they got 16,” he said.

Chadha further said if any vote has to be declared illegal, it has to be shown to the election agent and the deputy commissioner, which was not done. The AAP MP also demanded action against the presiding officer and said there should be a criminal case filed against him and he should be sent to jail.

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  • Bansal said it was a “pre-hatched conspiracy” that “for the first time 25 percent of the votes were declared invalid” and that the the parties had come together not just to defeat the BJP but to “rekindle democracy”.

    The AAP and Congress have moved the HC, pleading that these elections are declared invalid and free and fair polls are conducted with a retired judge as the presiding officer. They have also demanded an inquiry into the conduct of the presiding officer.

    Rupashree NandaRupashree Nanda, Senior Associate Editor at CNN-News18, has over 15 years of exp…Read More

    Edited By: Oindrila Mukherjee

    Location: Chandigarh, India

    first published: January 30, 2024, 13:15 IST

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