Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
Athgarh MLA Ramesh Raut is using dilatory tactics in the Supreme Court to keep obstructed the citizens’ right to elect the candidate of their choice in that constituency.
He was elected from Athgarh constituency to Orissa Legislative Assembly in general elections, 2009, only because the Returning Officer (RO) misused his powers to reject, in discernibly illegal manner, the correctly submitted nomination papers of the sitting and by then the most popular candidate, Ranendra Pratap Swain.
Orissa High Court has declared the election null and void, as to it, the conduct of the RO in rejecting Swain’s nomination papers was blatantly illegal.
Raut has challenged the High Court Order in the Supreme Court; but curiously, has been using dilatory tactics though his lawyers are top ranking lawyers of India such as F. S. Nariman, Harish Salve, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Pallav Shisodia and Soli Sorabjee.
Raut hails from a very poor family of Athargh; has no known education beyond the primary school level and was a mere page in Swain’s office before filing his papers and hence it can never be accepted that the Returning Officer, who, as Sub-Collector, was the highest administrative officer of the Sub-Division, acted under his influence to remove Swain, a former minister and a political heavyweight, from the list of contesting candidates.
The RO’s daredevilry in writing off Swain from the list of candidates was obviously meant to oblige a secret villain, who the State is yet to identify.
Whether in course of the case the Supreme Court would look at the issue I have raised in this matter in these pages, I cannot say.
But I have shown that the Athgarh RO’s conduct should be viewed as an experimentation on how a Prime Ministerial Candidate, when time comes, could be eliminated from electoral fray by gaining over the RO of his constituency.
If any secret villain was in search of an opportunity to derail Indian democracy by gaining over the ROs, then it can be safely said that Athgarh has written for that person or body of persons the success story.
Yes, the RO can keep any candidate out of fray by rejecting his /her nomination papers, howsoever arbitrarily that be, because the election laws have given the said officer the carte blanche to reject the nomination papers of any candidate notwithstanding the fact that it is possible on part of the same officer to tamper with the papers of the targeted candidate lying for days in his / her custody to create a cause for rejection thereof, as has happened in Athgarh.
If any enemy nation can gain over the ROs or majority of them, which in this country of bureaucratic corruption as well as of the cash-for-question-and-cash-for-confidence-vote-parliament is not at all impossible, democracy can be derailed by playing the tricks with candidates capable of forming government(s) after the elections.
The Athgarh case has proved that election cases raised against wrongful rejection of nomination papers by the RO may take many years to end. And, nobody can say for sure that such cases would end before another election takes place. Thus, by using a RO, any villain can keep any popular and befitting candidate out of legislative houses for an entire term.
Therefore I had argued in my previous article on Athgarh that the carte blanche given to the RO in rejection of nomination papers be done away with by immediate creation of an appellate layer above the said officer, with stipulation that if any aggrieved candidate demands, the final list of candidates in his / her constituency cannot be notified till orders in the appeal against rejection of nomination papers are pronounced.
Even as I insist that it should be proper for the Supreme Court to cogitate upon this issue while hearing the Athgarh case, it would not be out of context to suggest that the Athgarh MLA’s source of finance in defraying the cost of litigation in the Supreme Court needs be probed into.
Lawyers: F. S. Nariman, Harish Salve, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Pallav Shisodia and Soli Sorabjee that are working for Raut in the Supreme Court belong to the costliest layer of lawyers in the country. Raut does not come from a financial background strong enough to shoulder their fees. Neither his known source of income can defray the expenses. So who is funding him?
Unless he discloses the name of his financier, it can be safely assumed that somebody working secretly against Indian democracy, who used the Athgarh constituency as a laboratory to test if a RO could be successfully used to derail elections, is certainly ghost-paying the lawyers for Raut or paying them through Raut.
In the best interest of democracy, therefore, it is imperative that the details of the person or body of persons who is financing the Athgarh MLA in his case before the Supreme Court and the motive behind such financing be probed into immediately.
If the authorities in power have any dedication to democracy, one may hope that this suggestion would be taken into cognizance.