The narrow-margin win of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram, where he was declared elected after defeating Mamata Banerjee by 1,956 votes, will surely be contested by the big winner of West Bengal. It is ego-deflating that the Chief Minister won the state but lost her own election. The recount demand, which has been denied by the returning officer, will now have to be followed up by a challenge in the High Court.
The question really is this: can the courts really deliver a verdict quickly? If the case of former Union finance minister P Chidambaram is any guide, the chances are slim. This means the courts will have to short-circuit normal processes and do Banerjee a special political favour for us to get a decision in reasonable time.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, Chidambaram was trailing for most of the time in his Sivaganga constituency. But in the final rounds he was declared winner by 3,354 votes – a result that was contested by his All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) opponent R S Rajakannappan, who recently joined the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).
The case was finally thrown out by the Madras High Court only this February, nearly 12 years after it was first filed. The court rejected the election challenge saying there was no proof to indicate any electoral malpractice was committed.
But here’s the point: Chidambaram completed his Lok Sabha term in 2014, and was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2016 and will complete even this stint by mid-June 2022 (Rajya Sabha members get a six-year term unlike the Lok Sabha’s five). In short, his case was not decided in any kind of reasonable timeframe, both for the candidate who finally won and the one who had challenged the verdict. For the winning candidate, he would have had to live with a cloud of suspicion hanging over him. In Chidambaram’s case, even Narendra Modi taunted him before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as “recounting minister”.
As for the loser, he spent money and time challenging the verdict declared by the returning officer, and got no result in any reasonable time. The very fact that the winner completed his term shows that justice would not have been done even if the loser had actually won his case.
In the Adhikari-Banerjee battle, the results were already declared by the returning officer last night (2 May), and The Times of India quotes Election Commission sources as saying that once this happens, the commission itself has limited scope to intervene. The only possibility of challenge lies with the High Court.
According to the Representation of The People Act, 1951, clause 66 gives powers to the returning officer to declare results and his/her decision is more or less final. This is what the relevant clauses say.
“66. Declaration of results. When the counting of the votes has been completed, the returning officer (shall, in the absence of any direction by the Election Commission to the contrary, forthwith declare) the result of the election in the manner provided by this Act or the rules made thereunder.
“67. Report of the result. As soon as may be after the result of an election has been declared, the returning officer shall report the result to the appropriate authority and the Election Commission, and in the case of an election to a House of Parliament or of the Legislature of a State, also to the Secretary of that House, and the appropriate authority shall cause to be published in the Official Gazette the declarations containing the names of the elected candidates.”
“[67A. Date of election of candidate. For the purposes of this Act, the date on which a candidate is declared by the returning officer under the provisions of section 53…or section 66, to be elected to a House of Parliament or of the Legislature of a State…shall be the date of election of that candidate.]”
The points in italics are worth noting. The returning officer can declare the result, unless the commission has already directed him to hold back, for some reason. Second, once the result is declared, the date of declaration by the returning officer is the date of election of Adhikari.
The above provisions make it clear that unless the High Court immediately orders that Adhikari’s election be kept in abeyance despite the decision of the returning officer, Adhikari is the new MLA from Nandigram.
Banerjee goofed by allowing her emotions to challenge Adhikari on his home ground; this impetuous decision was politically foolish, and is now coming back to bite her.
For the BJP, this is a small moral victory after it was swept aside by the Banerjee tsunami. Given Adhikari’s ability to get under Didi’s skin and also given his tremendous achievement in defeating her, Adhikari has the makings of the BJP’s new leader of the opposition. He could be a possible chief ministerial face in 2026. He should be used to get under Didi’s skin where she commits political mistakes that will cost her.
Even if the courts finally decide that Didi won in Nandigram, Adhikari is the man of the moment. He handed Didi a stinging defeat – or near defeat, if he loses in court.
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