BJP & Election Commission embarrassed by Kerala High Court’s dismissal of three petitions

Rejection of three BJP candidates’ nomination by Returning Officers and dismissal of their petitions by the High Court have left both the Election Commission and the BJP in the state squirming

Photo Courtesy: PTI
Photo Courtesy: PTI

P Sreekumaran

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance(NDA) in poll-bound Kerala suffered a setback when Kerala High Court on Sunday dismissed a petition filed by BJP candidates in Thalassery, Guruvayoor and Devikulam constituencies challenging rejection of their nomination papers by Returning Officers.

The High Court accepted the argument of the Election Commission that courts cannot interfere in the election process once elections are declared and notified. Article 329(b) of the Constitution states that no election, either to Parliament or a state assembly, shall be called into question except through an election petition; and that the election petition could be filed only after the declaration of the results.

Justice N Nagaresh directed the Election Commission to respond to the allegations levelled by the petitioners. The court considered the petition in a special sitting on Sunday – a rare occurrence in the annals of Kerala’s history.

Justice Nagaresh said the court is not inclined to interfere with the Returning Officers’ decision at this stage. But having said that, the Justice went on to observe, “...the court notes with concern that Returning Officers in different constituencies are resorting to different parameters for accepting nomination papers/ forms and scrutinizing nominations. While some candidates benefit from the Returning Officers’ liberal approach, others are put to disadvantageous positions affecting their statutory right to contest elections.” The court also held that taking note of the facts mentioned in the petitions, the Election Commission should take necessary steps so that such differential treatment is avoided and the purity of the election process is preserved.

The EC said courts are barred from interfering in the poll process once elections are declared. The Supreme Court has consistently taken the view that once the election process is started by publishing election notification, the High Courts should not entertain writ petitions which will cause hindrance to the election process. According to the Commission, any interference by the court at this stage would interrupt and delay the progress of election proceedings and stall the process.

The petition was filed by BJP’s Kannur district president N Haridasan, NDA candidate in Thalassery constituency and Mahila Morcha state president Niveditha Subramanian, BJP candidate in the temple town of Guruvayoor and Dhanalakshmi, AIADMK candidate in Devikulam.

The Returning Officers had rejected their nominations during scrutiny on the ground that the documents were not filed properly. The papers of Haridasan were rejected because he had failed to submit the original documents along with the affidavit. Scrutiny showed that he had filed only photocopies of the documents. As BJP had not fielded a dummy candidate, the party is out of the race from Thalassery. The contest will now be between LDF candidate and sitting MLA, A N Shamseer, and UDF’s MP Aravindakshan.

The BJP candidates pointed out that the Election Commission had granted candidates time in Piravom and Kondotty constituencies to rectify errors in the nomination papers, while refusing them a chance to do so. This showed the dual stand taken by the Commission, they argued.

Senior counsel K Ramkumar, who appeared for Niveditha, said Returning Officers took action depending on the colours of flags! Rejecting the nomination papers solely on the ground that the official intimation by the party president in Form B of the Conduct of Election Rules, was not submitted at the time of scrutiny was wrong, he argued. The Returning Officer, he said, clearly acted outside his jurisdiction by ignoring Rule 4 of the Conduct of Election Rules, which says that the defects in Form A or B are not ‘fatal’ to the nomination.

Forms A or B have nothing to do with the nomination, Ramkumar said, adding that they were relevant only when allotting symbols to candidates. By acting the way they did, the Returning Officer had denied the petitioner her legal right to contest the election without any justification by misusing his powers.

In his argument, senior advocate S. Sreekumar, who appeared for N. Haridasan, said his client had produced forms A and B along with the nomination. The only flaw was that Form A did not have the signature of the BJP national president, a curable defect. His client had sought the permission of the Returning Officer to correct the error, but was not allowed to do that. Nominations, Sreekumar said, are not rejected on such flimsy technical grounds.

The rejection of nomination papers is the second setback in Kerala suffered by the BJP within two weeks. The first blow came when RSS ideologue R Balashankar accused the BJP leadership in the state of denying him a ticket from the Chengannur constituency due to a clandestine deal between the BJP and the CPI(M). The allegation from a top RSS man, considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had administered a rude jolt to the BJP’s state leadership. Balashankar twisted the knife in the BJP wound by saying that the state leadership of the party functioned like a mafia! And Balashankar said if he had contested from Chengannur, there was a good chance of BJP scoring an upset victory. But that was not to be. He had been denied a ticket from Chengannur and a weak candidate fielded there to ensure the victory of BJP state president K. Surendran from Konni in Pathanamthitta district, the epicentre of the Sabarimala agitation.

The big question before the BJP now is: what next? The dismissal by the High Court of petitions challenging the rejection of nomination papers of three top NDA leaders has put the state BJP leadership in a quandary.

The BJP candidate in Thalassery had polled over 22, 000 votes in the 2016 assembly election. With BJP out of the battle this time, where will the BJP votes go? Who will benefit from the setback to the saffron party? Likewise, in Guruvayoor, the BJP candidate had polled over 25, 000 votes in the 2016 assembly poll battle.

What will the BJP do now? Will it ask the party voters to abstain from voting? Or, will the saffron camp transfer the votes to the Congress, the lesser enemy in Kerala? An answer to these questions will be available only after the results are out. Whatever the outcome, the BJP leadership in the state will find it hard to explain the failure to ensure that the nomination papers of party candidates were in order. Add to this the refusal of several BJP candidates to contest on the ground that their candidatures were announced without their knowledge! The BJP’s cup of misery is well and truly full to the brim.

(IPA Service)

Views expressed are personal

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Published: 23 Mar 2021, 8:00 PM