Kochi: The Kerala High Court on Friday stayed its own order disqualifying Azhikode MLA K M Shaji on a plea claiming that he used religion to win the assembly polls in 2016. The two-week stay was granted to give Shaji the time to file appeal.
Earlier, disqualifying Shaji for six years, Justice P D Rajan directed the Kerala Assembly Speaker and the Election Commission to take appropriate action. The court disqualified the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) MLA acting on a plea led by LDF candidate M V Nikesh Kumar, who came second at Azhikode. It also directed Shaji to pay Rs 50,000 as court expenses to Nikesh.
Nikesh accused Shaji of having violated norms prescribed under various sections of the Representation of the People Act to win the elections.
Nikesh had alleged that an appeal was made to voters by Shaji, who belongs to the Muslim community, his agents and other people to vote for the UDF candidate on grounds of his religion.
He had also charged that pamphlets were circulated in the constituency urging people not to vote for a candidate who is not a believer of the Islamic faith.
IUML said it will take a decision on filing an appeal after getting the judgment copy.
Meanwhile, Shaji told Manorama News that Nikesh had distorted the case. He added that he will not end his political career over the incident.
Nikesh had approached the court two-and-a-half years ago after 'understanding that the rival candidate resorted to unfair practices while contesting against him'.
"Though my appeal to announce me as the winner was turned down by the High Court, I am satisfied as the court has disqualified the rival candidate," said Nikesh while interacting with the media at Kannur.
Bypoll in Azhikode if Shaji loses appeal
The Azhikode state assembly seat has fallen vacant after the Kerala High Court disqualified Shaji, and refused to declare the petitioner and losing candidate Nikesh as winner in the 2016 election. Shaji can now file an appeal in the Supreme Court against the HC order.
If Shaji's plea is turned down in the Supreme Court, a byelection to fill the seat will have to take place within six months.
This is not the first-ever disqualification of an MLA in Kerala. CPM leader O Bharathan was disqualified in 1992. The High Court disqualified Bharathan, who was elected from Edakkad in 1991, and declared his rival K Sudhakaran of the Congress party as winner. Sudhakaran was sworn in as MLA, but Bharathan won his appeal in the Supreme Court and returned as MLA in 1996.
Now that the High Court had refused to declare Kumar as MLA, the possibilities are that Shaji would either regain his seat via a court battle or there will be a byelection.
Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly, Ramesh Chennithala, said the UDF would fight the case legally. He also claimed that Shaji's credentials as a secular leader was 'unquestionable'.
Welcoming the judgement, CPM Kannur district secretary P Jayarajan alleged it had been proved that the IUML candidate used 'heinous means' like communal campaign to win the polls.
He also urged UDF leaders to accept the verdict and get ready for the bypoll in the constituency, instead of adopting other means like taking to legal recourse to retain Shaji's post.