New Delhi: UPA
presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee Tuesday managed to survive
his opponent Purno A. Sangma's bid to get him out of the race on
the ground that he was holding an office of profit, with the
returning officer rejecting the contention.
However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fired a fresh salvo at
Mukherjee, claiming his letter quitting the Kolkata-based Indian
Statistical Institute (ISI) was "fabricated", and warning it would
pursue the matter.
Former Lok Sabha speaker Sangma, backed by the BJP and other
opposition parties, had Monday formally objected to Mukherjee
contesting the presidential poll even as he continued as ISI's
chairman, which is an office of profit.
Rajya Sabha Secretary General V.K. Agnihotri, who is the returning
officer, rejected the objections.
"After making summary inquiries, as required under the relevant
provisions of the Presidential and Vice Presidential Election Act
regarding conduct of scrutiny of nomination papers and after
hearing both the parties in both the cases today (Tuesday), I, in
my capacity as returning officer, overruled the objections raised
in both the cases, as they were untenable and lacked merit,"
Agnihotri told reporters.
Agnihotri, though, refused to give the reasons for his decision.
But his decision was not acceptable to the BJP. It also claimed
that the returning officer's decision was illegal.
The BJP also released both Mukherjee's reply to their objections
submitted to the returning officer and his resignation letter sent
to ISI president to buttress the point that the signatures in the
two documents were visibly not identical.
BJP leader Ananth Kumar said: "(ISI president) M.G.K. Menon has to
clarify to the country whether it is his (Mukherjee's) signature
on the (resignation) letter. If it is not, what is the mystery
about it? The onus is on Menon."
"The resignation (as ISI chairman) filed by Mukherjee is
fabricated; and it is unfortunate that people contesting for such
high office are indulging in such kind of activities," he added.
Sangma's lawyer and BJP leader Satpal Jain, who had argued the
petition against Mukherjee before the returning officer, said: "It
is ironical that our objection to his candidature was rejected and
his nomination was accepted. This (decision) is illegal."
Jain noted that Mukherjee, having been elected as ISI chairman by
the institution's council, has effectively quit office only after
the council accepts his resignation letter.
"Our battle has just begun," Jain said, when asked for a future
course of action.
Mukherjee, who was away in Lucknow campaigning, was not available
to react to Sangma and his team's allegations against him.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, who along with
Home Minister P. Chidambaram argued Mukerjee's case before the
returning officer, said: "The objections raised by Sangma were
taken up by the returning officer and we filed our reply attached
with the resignation by Mukherjee and its acceptance by the ISI.
These were considered and the objections turned down," he said.
He said the UPA candidate had prepared himself to contest the
presidential poll after his name was cleared and hence the
resignation was given on June 20 to the ISI president.
"The resignation was accepted the same day by the president. The
council, which meets only in four months, can ratify the
resignation at its next meeting. The institution's consititution
does not talk about the means of resignation. Hence, the ISI
president can accept the resignation," he argued.
The controversy, however, resulted in the extension of last day of
scrutiny by a day to Tuesday, which is permitted under the law.
Agnihotri also noted that he had also rejected objections raised
by an individual against Sangma's candidature claiming anomalies
in the signatures of proposers and seconders in the nomination