How are poll results challenged, and when courts have set them aside?

Context:

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has filed an election petition in the Calcutta High Court challenging the Assembly election result of Nandigram constituency, where she had contested and lost.

What’s the issue?

She has sought that Suvendhu Adhikari’s election be declared void on grounds of corrupt practice and discrepancies in the counting procedure conducted by the Returning Officer.

What is an election petition?

Post results, an election petition is the only legal remedy available to a voter or a candidate who believes there has been malpractice in an election.

An election petition submitted to the High Court of the state in which the constituency is located.

Such a petition has to be filed within 45 days from the date of the poll results; nothing is entertained by courts after that.

Although the Representative of the People Act of 1951 suggests that the High Court should try to conclude the trial within six months, it usually drags on for much longer, even years.

Under Section 100 of the RP Act, an election petition can be filed on the grounds that

Section 123 of the RP Act has a detailed list of what amounts to corrupt practice, including bribery, use of force or coercion, appeal to vote or refrain from voting on grounds of religion, race, community, and language.

Improper acceptance of the nomination of the winning candidate or improper rejection of a nomination.

Malpractice in the counting process, which includes improper reception, refusal or rejection of any vote, or the reception of any vote which is void.

Non-compliance with the provisions of the Constitution or the RP Act or any rules or orders made under the RP Act.

What happens if the court finds that a contention of malpractice is correct?

The verdict on an election petition, if found in favour of the petitioner, may result in a fresh election or the court announcing a new winner.

Famous examples:

There are many examples, the most famous being the Allahabad High Court verdict of 1975 which set aside Indira Gandhi’s election from Rae Bareli constituency, four years earlier, on grounds of corrupt practice.

Another high-profile case was that of Congress leader C P Joshi’s loss in the Rajasthan Assembly elections in 2008, by one vote.