| Ramesh Rout |
New Delhi/Bhubaneswar, Dec. 9: The Supreme Court today rejected Athgarh MLA Ramesh Rout’s appeal against the Orissa High Court order unseating him, thus setting the stage for fresh elections in the constituency.
The judgment, which has implications for the BJD, evoked mixed reactions in Odisha’s political circles.
“Appeals dismissed,” a two-judge bench, consisting of Justices R.M. Lodha and J.S. Khehar, said in their short order delivered in the morning.
The high court had, on June 23, 2010, set aside Rout’s election on a plea by former minister and BJD leader Ranendra Pratap Swain, who had claimed that his nomination papers were improperly rejected by the returning officer. Rout had contested the election with support of the BJD after Swain’s nomination papers were rejected.
Swain had initially extended support to Rout, but their relations soured later when Rout reportedly refused to vacate the seat in favour of the former minister. Ever since, Swain and Rout have been at war with a powerful section within the BJD supporting the independent MLA.
Reacting to the verdict, chief minister Naveen Patnaik said: “I just heard the news. I will consult my leaders and look into all the matters.”
On the other hand, elated over the victory, Swain said: “It is the victory of the truth. I must thank the people of Athgarh for backing me throughout my struggle. They have even contributed money for my fight. I will go back to them. The conspiracy hatched to prevent me from contesting the elections has been exposed.”
Rout was not available for comments. He did not even turn up at the Assembly to attend the opening day of the winter session.
While setting aside Rout’s election, the high court had also directed that fresh polls be held, but the order on fresh elections was stayed by the Supreme Court till it had heard Rout’s appeals against the high court order. Today, the apex court upheld the order.
“The consideration of the matter by the high court does not suffer from any factual or illegal infirmity… we see no ground to interfere with the impugned judgment,” the top court said in a detailed judgment made available later in the day. It noted that the returning officer had acted in haste and erred in rejecting Swain’s nomination papers on April 6, 2009.
The verdict triggered scenes of jubilation among supporters of Swain, who won the seat in 1990, 1995, 2000 and 2004. His supporters even visited temples to offer prayers. On his part, Swain, who is believed to have become a victim of BJD second-in-command Pyari Mohan Mohapatra’s ire, said he remained a disciplined soldier of the party but would continue to fight against injustice.
The BJP and Congress welcomed the decision. “The allegations of misuse of official machinery have been vindicated,” said BJP legislature leader K.V. Singh Deo. Pradesh Congress Committee president Niranjan Patnaik said: “People are eager to know who financed Rout’s election. The misuse of power by the BJD has been exposed by this judgment.”
The Opposition parties also demanded action against erring returning officer Rajesh Prabhakar Patil, who is the Kandhmal collector.
With a by-election in Athgarh now a certainty, major parties have begun chalking out their strategies. The question being asked in the BJD circles is whether the party would give the ticket to Swain, whose equations with Rajya Sabha member Pyari Mohan Mohapatra are not good.
“If it does not give the ticket to the Swain, the conspiracy against him will be proved. If it gives him the ticket, the authority of Mohapatra will be undermined,” said a BJD leader. However, no party leader was willing to speak on record.