The High Court of Manipur had been swamped with several petitions challenging the election of many MLAs who were declared elected in the 2022 general elections, including ministers. Never before has one seen such a large number of election petitions in the past and it is quite unprecedented. Altogether 36 election petitions challenging the election of MLAs, including 17 from the ruling party BJP are pending before the High Court now.
According to rule, a petition may be filed by any candidate at the election or by any elector within forty-five days from the date of election of the returned candidate. Forty-five days had gone by since the declaration of results of the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly election. In the past, there were few election petitions and even if petitions were there, it was a long and cumbersome process and rarely the final judgement comes before the end of the term. But in the last assembly, something unprecedented happened.
The court declared the election of Kakching MLA Yengkhom Surchandra Singh and Wangkhei MLA Okram Henry as null and void and subsequently M Rameshor and Y Erabot were sworn in as MLAs some months before the end of the term. Perhaps, these judgments may have buoyed the enthusiasm of defeated candidates in challenging the election of their rivals. However, 36 petitions is quite a large number. BJP has a safe majority now in the 12th assembly with 32 MLAs and it also has the support of NPF, NPP, JDU, KPA and two Independents.
Among the election petitions, the election of altogether 17 BJP MLAs including two ministers Thongam Bishwajit Singh and Govindas Konthoujam had been challenged. Among the reasons cited in the petitions, it ranges from non-disclosure of correct information regarding educational qualifications, assets and liabilities including that of spouses and other dependents, and criminal background.
According to Election Commission of India norms as mandated by various Supreme Court judgments, all candidates are required to file an affidavit in Form-26, alongwith nomination paper, declaring information about criminal cases, assets, liabilities and educational qualifications. Candidates who have criminal cases against them - either pending cases or cases in which a candidate has been convicted, shall publish a declaration about such cases, for wide publicity, in newspapers with wide circulation in the constituency area.
As per Supreme Court order in 2020 political parties have also been directed to publish criminal antecedents of contesting candidates along with reasons for fielding each one of these candidates, notwithstanding their ‘winnability’. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has also issued a directive to implement the apex court’s orders concerning criminal antecedents of candidates. The 2002 verdict established the filing of affidavits by candidates as the right of the voter. The SC held that the right to information – the right to know antecedents, including the criminal past, or assets of candidates – was a fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution and that the information was fundamental for survival of democracy.
Election reforms have come a long way and now the voter’s right to know the antecedents of candidates contesting elections have more or less been established and declaration of such information had been made obligatory. In short, any attempt to dupe the voters by giving incorrect information or non-disclosure of vital information by candidates would not only reflect on the morals of the candidates but also border on criminal behaviour. We also understand that every candidate is assisted by a lawyer or lawyers while preparing the nomination papers and affidavits. So it is safe to assume that he has been briefed properly of the legal consequences of giving incorrect information or withholding any mandatory information by their respective lawyers.
First published:6 May 2022, 8:11 pm
manipur high courtElection petitionKakching MLA M Rameshwar