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Election of Uma Bharti's Nephew Null and Void, Declares MP High Court

The Court found that the RO favoured BJP MLA who submitted two nomination papers after the deadline with contradictory statements; Court also sought strict action against the RO.
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Madhya Pradesh High Court. Image Courtesy: PTI

Bhopal: In a major setback to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, the Jabalpur bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court declared the election of Rahul Singh Lodhi, Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Tikamgarh's Kharagpur constituency "null and void".

Hearing the petition of Chanda Singh Gour, Congress's runner-up candidate from the seat, the bench of Justice Nandita Dubey ordered that all the benefits accruing to him in his capacity as an MLA should be stopped immediately.

The HC, which asked to send a verdict copy to the Election Commission of India (ECI) and MP State Election Commission, has ordered "strict action" against the returning officer Vandana Rajput for "favouring" him. The Court also directed the EC not to assign any similar nature of duty in future to her. Rajput was serving as a sub divisional magistrate in Tikamgarh.

The nephew of former Union Minister Uma Bharti, Rahul Lodhi, won the 2018 Assembly election from the Kharagpur seat with a margin of over 11,000 votes. He defeated sitting Congress MLA Chandra Singh Gour who became MLA in 2013 by defeating Lodhi with a margin of 5,000 votes.

In her petition, Chandra Singh alleged that the returning officer Vandana Rajput accepted Lodhi's two contradictory nomination papers -- which is a violation of the People's Representation Act. She also accused Lodhi of not disclosing information that he was a partner in a firm M/s RS construction in Tikamgarh which takes contracts from the Madhya Pradesh Rural Road Development Authority (MPRRDA).

In addition, Gaur also alleged that Lodhi had concealed information in his nomination paper regarding the fact that the High Court had imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 on Lodhi in 2014 which he was supposed to pay to Chandra Singh Gaur. But Lodhi had failed to pay that

amount to Gaur which amounted to non-compliance with the High Court order.

Gaur alleged that these elements materially affected the outcome of the election results.

The court found all the allegations made by the petitioner true. Therefore, the court criticised the Rajput for going beyond her jurisdiction in accepting Lodhi's nomination papers.

In the judgement, the court noted that the order of the RO on November 12, 2018, mentions that Lodhi was asked to submit documents related to the partnership firm through a letter dated November 8, 2018. Lodhi gave the documents on November 10, 2018, a day after the deadline for filing nominations. "Under such circumstances, the returning officer ought not to have accepted the amended form and accompanying documents filed by Rahul Singh Lodhi on November 12 at 10. 25am (three days after the last date for filing of nomination)," the court said.

"Clearly there is a failure of duty and violation of statutory provisions in terms of section 134 of the Act of 1951 by the returning officer, who went out of her way to accept the nomination paper to favour Rahul Singh Lodhi," the judge observed.

Lodhi who celebrated his birthday a day before the verdict had refuted both charges. He clarified that he had often asked Gaur to take the amount, but she always denied the money in good faith.

Speaking to reporters after the verdict, he stated that he had not concealed the fact that he was a partner in the firm which had a contract with the MPRRDA. However, he later realised his mistake and resigned from the partnership with the firm and published the information in a gazette notification and submitted another nomination with an affidavit within the stipulated time.

Taking a cue from the High Court's order, Congress media in-charge KK Mishra rapped the BJP for misusing state functionaries to "rig the elections". He also demanded the cancellation of his membership in the state Assembly.

(With PTI inputs)

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