The Kerala High Court on Friday declared as invalid the election of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) MLA K M Shaji on a plea that he had indulged in a communal campaign, amounting to corrupt practices, to win the 2016 Assembly polls. The IUML is a constituent of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and currently has 17 seats in the Assembly.
Disqualifying Shaji, who won from the Azhikode seat, Justice P D Rajan also barred him from contesting polls for six years. The court directed Shaji to pay Rs 50,000 as costs to the petitioner M V Nikesh Kumar, the CPM-backed candidate who lost to Shaji in the polls by a margin of 2,287 votes.
Later in the day, however, the same bench stayed the execution of the verdict for two weeks on a petition by Shaji’s lawyer, seeking time to file an appeal in the Supreme Court.
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The managing editor of Reporter TV, Kumar alleged Shaji solicited votes in the name of religion and indulged in a false campaign against him. He argued that Shaji violated sections 123 (3) and 123 (4) of the Representation of the People Act and his election should be declared void.
Kumar had alleged that Shaji distributed pamphlets, asking people to refrain from voting for a non-Muslim and instead vote for a devout Muslim.
“There is no place for non-Muslims alongside the kind Allah. In the final days, they will not cross the narrow bridge to heaven. They are to sleep with Satan. For the victory of a Muslim who prays five times a day for our well-being, all Muslims should pray to Allah for K Mohammad Shaji aka KM Shaji,” read the pamphlet.
Kumar also sought that he be declared the winner, but the court rejected the demand and ordered re-election in the constituency, traditionally a CPM stronghold.
Reacting to the verdict, Shaji said he is a secular politician. “The accusation that I misused religion for an election campaign is an insult to me as a secular politician. I had openly stated that I don’t want the votes of communal forces,” he said. He also denied distributing the above-mentioned pamphlets and said they must have been “fabricated with malicious intentions”.
Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Ramesh Chennithala, said the UDF would fight the case legally. He also claimed Shaji’s credentials as a secular leader were “unquestionable”.
Welcoming the judgment, CPM Kannur district secretary P Jayarajan alleged that it had been proved that the IUML candidate used “heinous means” like a communal campaign to win the polls.