The recent mayoral polling debacle in Chandigarh has not just raised eyebrows but ignited a deep concern that the Supreme Court has rightfully expressed. The court's assertion that the declaration of eight ballot papers as invalid by the presiding officer, Anil Masih, amounts to nothing less than a "murder of democracy" encapsulates the severity of the situation. The collaboration between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress, enjoying a comfortable margin, was poised to secure the Mayor's seat with 20 votes in their favour and 16 against them. However, the Returning Officer's fraudulent actions, evident in the defacement of valid ballot papers as revealed by CCTV footage, paints a grim picture of electoral misconduct. The more recent and clearer video circulating on social media paints an even darker narrative, suggesting an unholy alliance between Masih and the BJP of which he is a member.
This manipulation, as exposed, robbed the AAP-Congress nominee of a rightful victory. The apex court's decision to summon Masih before the three-judge bench, including Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, hearing the case on February 19 is a commendable move towards restoring justice and democratic integrity. The comparisons drawn between Masih and the Biblical character Judas reflect the public sentiment of betrayal and foul play. In the case of Judas, he had remorse and had taken his own life throwing away the 30 pieces of silver he received. Beyond questioning his interpretation of the rules, Masih’s conduct borders on criminality, demanding a thorough investigation to ensure he faces appropriate consequences. The urgency in addressing this issue is paramount to safeguarding the principles of democracy. The BJP, in the interest of transparency and its own credibility, should voluntarily denounce his conduct and advocate for a fresh election. To resort to legalese is to admit guilt and invite public opprobrium. A court-appointed judicial officer as the new Returning Officer would provide the necessary impartiality to restore faith in the electoral process.
Failing to rectify this situation may come at a heavy cost for the ruling party in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The choice now lies between keeping Chandigarh’s mayoral post, gained at great moral cost, and salvaging the party’s credibility, which risks being tarnished irreparably by association with electoral misconduct. It is imperative that swift and decisive actions be taken to uphold the essence of democracy and ensure accountability for those responsible for this assault on electoral fairness.