Embattled PC dealt a blow by HC in poll case

AIADMK rival had alleged malpractices

The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Thursday refused to dismiss an election petition against Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, dealing yet another blow to the embattled minister.

The petition was filed by Chidambaram’s AIADMK rival Raja Kannappan, challenging his election to the Lok Sabha from Tamil Nadu’s Sivaganga constituency in May 2009.

Rejecting Chidambaram’s interim application seeking that all the charges made by Kannappan be struck down, Justice K Venkatraman of the Madurai bench deleted only two of the 29 charges levelled.

The charges claimed that some government and bank officials allegedly “owing allegiance” to Chidambaram helped him during the election, and that he “misused official machinery” to intimidate AIADMK men.

However, on the other 27 charges mentioned in Kannappan’s poll petition, including malpractices during counting of votes, dispatch of money etc., the Judge said Chidambaram’s plea to strike out all the charges could not be accepted as they were all only in the initial stage. “This is not the stage to strike them (other 27 charges) down,” the Judge said.

He directed the Congress Minister to “face the case” and put forward his objections when the petition (of Kannappan) would be heard by the court.

The court’s order drew immediate reactions from the political spectrum, with the Opposition BJP, AIADMK and the home minister’s bete noire Subramanian Swamy all demanding his resignation.

BJP president Nitin Gadkari charged that Chidambaram has lost moral authority to continue in office.

“What more evidence does the Prime Minister need? Chidambaram should have resigned earlier. We had boycotted him in Parliament ,yet the PM did not take it seriously," Gadkari told reporters.

Chief minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalitha said her party had always held that Chidambaram won the Sivaganga LS seat by “fraudulent means” and Kannappan’s poll petition was based on “incontrovertible documentary evidence”. “Chidambaram’s continuance as Home Minister will be a blot on democracy,” she said, adding that if he did not resign,  Prime Minister  should dismiss him from the Cabinet.

Chidambaram had, amid a counting row, won the Sivaganga seat by a thin margin of 3,354 votes, following which in June 2009 Kannappan had filed an election petition in the High Court pleading to declare the result “null and void” for  electoral malpractices. The AIADMK candidate claimed that votes polled for him were, during counting, “transferred to Chidambaram”, and the counting process “manipulated” to facilitate his victory.

Even as the news of the Madurai bench order spread like wildfire, Kannappan’s lawyer, Saravana Kumar told reporters that the court found a “prima facie case” vis-à-vis the other charges. Chidambaram’s lawyer in Chennai, T Sathyamurthy, denied that the court order was a setback for the minister. On the contrary, the court has “partially accepted” his interim petition and struck down two paragraphs of crucial allegations.

In New Delhi, riding high on the strong backing of the UPA government and the Congress, Chidambaram not only ruled out his resignation but stated that the Madras HC verdict asking him to face trial court was “not a setback”.

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