P.A. Choudary, J.
1. Ending a long spell of 'Special Officers' tutelage in the State, the State Government recently conducted elections to the local bodies. Electrictions to Anakapalli Municipal Council with which we are concerned here, were held in the latter half of July, 1981. So far as it is material to this case we need note that the writ petitioners filed their nominations from ward numbers 26, 24,23,14,25 and 27. Those nominations were accepted, but the election officer, the second respondent, notified the notices of withdrawals of the petitioners from the municipal election from those wards. Accepting of the writ petitioners' notices of withdrawals left in the field only one candidate contesting for each one of the above wards except the double-member ward of 27 where there were two contesting candidates. Accordingly, the Returning Officer declared respondents 9,7,6,10,5,8 and 11 as having been returned imposed from the above-mentioned wards. The writ petitioners feeling aggrieved by the above action of the Election Officer and the Returning Officer, filed writ Petition No. 5345/81 challenging the action of the Election Officer notifying the withdrawals of the petitioners' nominations from the aforesaid wards and declaring the above mentioned respondents as returned. The petitioners writ petition was partly allowed by Gangadhara Rao J., by his order dated 18-8-81. The learned Judge, on the basis of his finding that the 2nd respondent did not hold even a summary inquiry into the question whether the petitioners signed voluntarily or not on the notices of withdrawals, directed the second respondent, Election Officer, to hold a summary inquiry into the question whether the writ petitioners had in fact signed the notices of withdrawals voluntarily and whether those notices were attested by the fourth respondent. The learned Judge further directed that 'in such a summary inquiry if the second respondent was satisfied that the withdrawals were voluntary, and they were attested by the fourth respondents 5 to 11 as having been returned unopposed will stand. But if the second respondent comes to a different conclusion that the notices of withdrawals of the petitioners' nominations were not voluntary, the learned Judge said, that he would then set aside the declarations of the respondents 5 to 11 as the winning candidates for those wards and direct the Election Officer to hold an election for those wards for the petitioners as well as the respondents 5 to 11'.
2. The above direction of Gangadhara Rao, J. has satisfied neither the writ petitioners nor the respondents 5 to 11 Against that judgement the writ petitioners have filed Writ Appeal N0. 485/81 objecting to the direction to held further inquiry and claiming that the learned single Judge should have straightway accepted their case and directed re-election after setting aside the election of respondents 5 to 11. On the other hand, respondents 5 to 11 have filed Writ Appeal No. 473/81 complaining against the direction of the learned single Judge to hold a summary inquiry above-referred to and giving the above contingent declaration.
3. The seven writ petitioners filed their nominations from wards Nos. 26,24,23,24,14,25 and 27. The last date for withdrawal of valid nominations was fixed as 2 p.m. on 20-7-81. The second respondent, acting on the basis of notices of withdrawals which were admitted to have been signed by the petitioners and which were presented to the second respondent by two Appala Naidus and received by him at 2 p.m. on 20-7-81; declared and notified that the petitioners had withdrawn their nominations. This was followed by a consequential declaration that respondents 5 to 11 were elected unopposed from the aforementioned wards.
4. The complaint of the writ petitioners is that after they had filed their nominations from the various wards of Anakapalli Municipality intending to contest the Municipal elections and after the second respondent had declared those nominations to be valid and to be in order, they were called to a closed-door meeting and were coerced to sign on blank papers which were petition that in a night-long meeting conducted on 19/19th night of July 1981 under the auspices of the fourth respondent, who is a sitting member of the House of People from the Anakapalli Parliamentary Constituency, they were forced to sign on blank papers which were later used as notices of withdrawals. The petitioners allege in their writ petition that in a night-long meeting conducted on 18/19th night of July 11981 under the auspices of the fourth respondent, who is a sitting member of the House of People from the Anakapalli Parliamentary Constituency, they were forced to sign on blank papers under threats to their lives. They describe in their writ petition as to how they first refused to sign on blank papers and how then the doors of the meeting hall were closed and how they were forced and coerced to sign on blank papers. The petitioners, therefore, say that their signatures on the notices of withdrawals are not voluntary. The petitioners allege in the writ petition that although the second respondent was fully apprised intime of the involuntary nature of their signatures, the second respondent, acting udner a legal misapprehension that he had no power to go into the involuntary nature of the signatures, had accepted those withdrawal notices on 20-7-81. The respondents 5 to 11. no doubt, deny this story. In particular, the fourth respondent who was painted in the writ petition in lurid colors as the villain of the piece and an expert in obtaining such signatures while admitting the holding of a meeting denied the use of coercion and threats. Although the fourth respondent's version may not be easily swallowed the question that arises in this case is whether this court in the circumstances mentioned above acting under Article 226 of the Constitute, should grant any relief to the writ petitioners. We must remember that by the act of declaration of the second respondent on 20-7-81, the contesting respondents 5 to 11 had been declared to have been duly elected as the municipal councilors from those various wards. Once election results are announced the law is that those results can be upset only in an election dispute. Under the rules made by the State Government for decision of election dispute in G. O. Ms. No. 1118 M.A. dt 17-8-61 and G. O. Ms. No. 587 dt 10=9-67. and election to the Municipal Council should not be called in question except by an election petition presented to an Election Tribunal in accordance with these rules. An election result can be challenged not merely on the basis of some illegality in polling but on the basis of nay anterior defect in the conduct of elections. In other words, even if we assume that the second respondent acted illegally in accepting the remaining candidates as having been elected unopposed, the proper remedy to adopt is an election petition. We do not see how we can cross over this hurdle of an election petition and how we can grant any relief to the petitioners in this writ petition. By claiming that their nomination ought not to have been declared as withdrawn and by further claiming that respondents 5 to 11 ought not to have been declared to have been returned unopposed, the petitioners are clearly raising an election dispute which should normally be tried by an Election Tribunal under the aforesaid rules. Whether the second respondent acted wrongly or rightly in not holding a summary inquiry would not make the slightest of difference to this legal position. Even on the assumption that the second respondent had acted wrongly, it is clear, that no relief can be granted to the petitioners without first setting aside the elections of respondents 5 to 11. For the grant of such a relief of setting aside the elections, election petition before an Election Tribunal is the proper remedy. It is no doubt true that the writ petitioners need not be driven to an election petition, if the so called elections are no elections at all and cannot be described to have been conducted under the Act (see In re Barnes Corporation Ex. P Hutter, (1933) 1 KB 668 and Kotayya v. State of Andh. Pra., 1956 Andh LT 689: (AIR 1957 Andh Pra 907). If for example, the respondents 5 to 11 were declared elected, say, by drawing of lots instead of counting of votes this Court could have ignored those elections and would have issued a mandamus to hold proper and legal elections. That is on the basis that the so-called elections held by the imaginary method were utterly void in the eye of the law and were outside the pale of the governing statute. The law on this point is rather stringent and clearly insists upon following its letter strictly in the method adopted for conduct of elections. Yet, no decision under election law has held so far that every illegality committed in accepting the nominations or withdrawals or in the conduct of the polls would justify a count in ignoring the election altogether by holding them to be void. Where elections cannot be so ignored the election law insists that the validity of such elections should be tested only before the Election Tribunals. This insistence is based on the need to allow the electoral process to be completed without middle-term obstructions and also on the need to provide for effectual forum to adjudicate an election dispute on statutorily limited grounds. The result is inescapable in this case. As the writ petitioners cannot ignore the declaration made by the second respondent declaring respondents 5 to 11 as having been returned and as such declaration cannot be described as a nullity the writ petitioners, willingly or unwillingly but legally can get such a declaration set aside only by an Election Tribunal through an election petition and not by this Court. It is never the case of the petitioners that the declaration made by the second respondent is totally void. Such a plea even if put forward cannot be upheld, because every infraction of election law would not render the election result void. What they have asked for in their writ petition is to set aside the election on the basis that their signatures were involuntary and that the second respondent acted illegally in accepting the notices of withdrawals without holding even a summery inquiry. As noted above, even on the assumption that the signatures of the petitioners on the notices of withdrawals are involuntary and ought to have been accepted by the second respondent without holding a summary inquiry the declaration of election results would not be void. If so, the declaration of respondents 5 to 11 as having been elected can only be set aside by an election petition and not by a writ petition, because the aforementioned G. O. Ms. No. 1118 M. A. dt 17-8-61 and G. O. Ms No. 587 dt. 10-9-67 forbid calling in question any election held under the Act except by an election petition. It is no answer to say that Art. 226 of the Constitution is of superior efficacy and is not bound by the Andhra Pradesh Municipal Council Act or the Rules made there under. The Power under Art. 226 is conferred to enforce fundamental rights and also to enforce any other legal right. In electoral matters, rights are created by the Statue and are governed by it provisions. (See Keshava Menon's Case.) In such a case when the law provides in clear terms that an election shall not be called in question except by an election petition, it would not normally be proper for this court acting under Art. 226 of the Constn. to ignore such a provision of law, because this court can only enforce a legal right in this matter. In this case, the petitioners admit that the signatures appearing on the notices of withdrawals were coerced to sign those notices of withdrawals. The respondents deny this contention of the petitioners. Till the petitioner succeed in proving that the signatures were obtained under coercion, the validity on notices of withdrawals continues to be operative. The question is, where does the truth lie in between these rival contentions of the parties. Such a question can only be answered by a court or a tribunal acting on the basis of evidence and after a full investigation into facts. Clearly a summary inquiry by 2nd respondent can never serve that purpose. The purpose of any inquiry under Rule & can only be to ascertain the facts and find out the reality as different from appearances ad declare on that basis the rights of the parties. For the discharge of such a responsibility, summary remedy is wholly inappropriate and inadequate. Summary inquiry is a singularly unsuited instrument to find out truth entangled in the cobwebs of any serious controversy. It may be for that reason that R. 13 of the Election Rules provides for holding of no inquiry by the second respondent before accepting the notices of withdrawals. But Gangadhara Rao J., inferred a duty to hold such a summary inquiry from the second respondent's power to accept notices of withdrawals. The learned Judge said that accepting notices of withdrawals imply deciding about their validity. We are not able to agree with this reasoning. Every act of a public officer affecting the rights of a party involves the process of arriving at a conclusion by that officer. But it does not necessarily mean that reaching at such a conclusion must only be through the route of an inquiry either summary or extensive. An inquiry presupposes participation of the contestants. The question whether such an inquiry should be held at all can only be decided by law. As there is no express provision to that effect in R. 13 and as no summary inquiry can serve the aim of an inquiry, we hold that under R.13 the second respondent is under no legal obligation to hold even a summary inquiry. In this context we may note that R. 11 provided for recording of reasons relating to rejection of nomination papers, but provided for observance of no such formality in accepting he withdrawals. In fact, the learned Judge himself recognizes, by implication, that an extensive inquiry cannot be held by the second respondent consistently with his statutory duty to conduct elections in time. If an extensive inquiry cannot be held, we are of the opinion that the involved question whether the signatures were put under coercion can never satisfactorily be decided in a summery inquiry. For these reasons we are unable to agree with the learned Judge that Rule 13 of the election rules imposes a duty on the second respondent to hold some sort of an inquiry and that the second respondent was guilty of disobeying that mandate of law.
5. We find no support in the language of R. 13 to the view of the learned Judge. Rule 13 of the rules reads as follows:-
'13 (1). Any candidate may withdraw his candidature by notice in writing signed by him and delivered to the Election Officer at any time after the presentation of his nomination paper or papers and not later than 3'O clock in the afternoon of the second day succeeding that appointed for the scrutiny of nominations. Unless the notice is delivered by the candidate the notice is delivered by the candidate himself to the Election Officer, the candidate's signature on the notice shall be attested by a person empowered to attest vakalats;
Provided that, if that day is a public holiday or has been notified by the Government as a day to be observed as a holiday in Government Offices in the State, the notice of withdrawal of candidature shall be considered as having been delivered in due time, if it is delivered before 3'O clock in the afternoon on the next succeeding day which is neither such a public holiday nor a day so notified.
(2) The Election Officer on receiving a notice of the withdrawal under sub-rule (1) shall as soon as may be, cause a notice of the withdrawal to be published on the notice board of the municipal office.
(3) A candidate who has withdrawn his candidature under sub-rule (1) shall not be allowed to cancel the withdrawal.'
A reading of this Rule shows that a candidate may withdraw his nomination by giving a notice of withdrawal to the Elicitation Officer signed by him and delivered by him or delivered by some one other then himself. In the latter contingency the Rule requires that the candidate's signature on the notice of withdrawal should be attested by a person empowered to attest vakalatas. In the case before us the candidates admit that the notices bear their signatures and those signatures were attested by the fourth respondent, and that they were delivered at 2 p.m. to the second respondent. Prima face, therefore, the notices of withdrawals were in order and the second respondent did not act illegally in accepting those notices of withdrawals. But the argument of the writ petitioners which found favour with the learned Judges was that even by 20th July 1981 the second respondent was made aware of the fact that the signatures were obtained by use of coercion and that therefore, in those circumstances, it became the duty of the second respondent to hold a summary inquiry and find out whether coercion had been used in obtaining signatures. We are unable to agree with this contention. Of all the writ petitioners whose signatures appeared on the notices of withdrawals, only the fifth petitioner made a complaint at 11 a.m. on 20-7-81. No other petitioner had made such a complaint to the second respondent before 2 p.m. on that day. Even the fifth petitioner had never chosen to be present at the scheduled time at 2 p.m. on 20-7-81. In those circumstances, we find that the writ petitioners who had admittedly signed were not present before the second were not present before the second respondent at the proper time to raise a dispute regarding the involuntary nature of the signatures. But even if the writ petitioners had been present and had raised such a contention before the second respondent we do not find it possible to hold that the second respondent committed any error of law in refusing to hold any inquiry. The above rules do not provide for holding of nay such inquiry. In our opinion, the purpose behind R.13 appears to dictate the second respondent to act according to the appearance of the notices of withdrawals leaving any errors to be corrected by the Election Tribunal. Otherwise, there is no reason why the Statute has not provided for the holding of any inquiry under R.13 while under R.11 the Election Officer is required to give a reasoned order rejecting the nomination papers.
6. For the aforementioned reasons, we hold that the direction given by Gangadhara Rao J. to the second respondent to hold a summary inquiry cannot be sustained. In fact, the argument of the petitioners in asking for a summary inquiry fails between two stools. A summary inquiry would serve no purpose if it does not help to decide the real question, whether the signatures are voluntary or not. If the real question is to be decided by giving an opportunity to all the parties examining all the witnesses such a protracted procedure would be inconsistent with the scheme of R.13. We accordingly hold that the second respondent committed no error in not holding any inquiry.
7. Gangadhara Rao, J. proceeding on the assumption that the second respondent committed an illegality in not holding a summary inquiry considered the question whether such an illegality can be corrected in an election petition. He ruled that no election petition would lie in this case, because the action of the second respondent in accepting the notices of withdrawals and declaring respondents 5 to 11 as having been returned elected unopposed was prior to the conduct of the elections. The learned Judge observed, 'the election petition could be filed only after the election and such a course would be misconceived for correcting an error with reference to an order passed anterior to the election'. The learned Judge sought to derive support for this view from Bhagavantha Reddy v. R. D. O. Guntur, (1963) 1 Andh WR 54. We regret our inability to agree with this reasoning of the learned Judge. Firstly it appears to us that once the results of elections are declared as they were in this case, no separate legal action exclusively challenging the second respondent's acceptance of notices of withdrawals could be filed. As stated above, thereafter the elections alone could be challenged and as a part of that challenge the validity of the second respondent's action would be considered by the Election Tribunal. It is now well known that the word 'election' used in various Indian Statutes connotes the entire process of beginning with the election notification calling the Constituencies to elect and ending with declaration of results. The word 'election' has also a narrower meaning. Its narrow meaning connotes only a final choice and it is this meaning which Gangadhara Rao J., has attributed to the word 'election'. But the decisions in our country, both pre-constitutional and post constitutional, have been attributing to the word 'election' a wider meaning covering the entire process of election from the time of first notification to the time of the declaration of results. In Ponnuswamy v. Returning Officer, : 1SCR218 a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court interpreting the word 'election' in Art. 329-B if the Constitution held that that word connotes the entire process culminating in a candidate being declared elected. A Division Bench of this Court, consisting of Subbarao C.J.(As he then was ) and Bhimashankaram J., in Mahaboob v. Krishna Singh, 1956 Andh LT 486:(AIR 1957 Andh Pra 206) accepted the above wider meaning of the word 'election' given by the Supreme Court in Ponnuswamy's case : 1SCR218 (supra), in a case arising under the Madras Village Panchayat Act. In doing so, our Division Bench followed a decision of the Division Bench of the Madras High Court consisting of Madhavan Nair and Curgenven JJ. in Srinivasulu Reddy v. Kuppuswami Goundar (1928-27 Mad LW 362): AIR 1928 Mad 253) where the learned judges gave to the word 'election' occurring in a Local Board Statute the wider meaning. It is therefore, clear that the Indian Statutes have been using the word 'election' as connoting the entire process beginning with the notification and ending with the declaration. It follows that the observations of Gangadhara Rao J., that an election petition could not be filed in this case challenging the action of acceptance by the second respondent complained against was anterior to the election, cannot be correct. We have examined the decision reported in Bhagavantha Reddy v. R.D.O., Guntur (1963-I Andh WR 54) (supra) which has been cited by the learned Judge in support of his view. In that judgement we do not find anything directly relating to this question being decided. That was a case where the validity of an order rejecting twentysix nomination papers in an election to Gram Panchayat was raised. One of the objections raised by the respondents to that writ petition was its unmaintainability on the ground of an effective alternative remedy in the form of an election petition. Seshachalapathy J. rejected this argument on the ground that an election petition could only be filed after the election was over and such course would be misconceived for correcting an error with reference to an order passed anterior to the election. What the learned Judge was obviously saying was that the candidates whose names were rejected need not wait till the process of election was over and they can file a writ petition. In that case the crucial fact is that the results of the elections had not been declared by the Returning Officer. It is, therefore, clear that no election petition could have been filed in that case at that stage. It was in those circumstances the learned Judge observed that the affected parties need not wait till the results were declared. That case, in our opinion is not an authority for the proposition that the election result cannot be set aside by the Election Tribunal on the ground that the election result has been affected by an act the election result has been affected by an act by the Election Officer done prior to the declaration of results . We therefore cannot agree with the interpretation Gangadhar Rao, J. gave to the judgement of Bhagavantha Reddy v. R.D.O., Guntur ( 1963-1 Andh WR 54) (supra). Finally, Gangadhara Rao, J. refused to consider the election petition as efficacious remedy on the ground that even if the writ petitioners succeed in the writ petition it would not enable them to contest the present elections. We are unable to agree with this reasoning of the learned Judge. That is common at all elections. Further the whole situation in the present case has been brought about by the petitioners upon themselves. They cannot therefore be heard to complain against the inevitable consequences of their success in the election petition would not be an effective remedy is that no relief can be ranted to the writ petitioners in this writ petition and the proper remedy for them is to file an election petition.
8. It is next argued by the writ petitioners that the admitted circumstances in this case would show that show that their signatures had been taken under coercion and that therefore we should allow their writ petition on that basis . They referred to four or five important facts in support of this argument. (1) the holding of the meeting which was admitted. (2) the attestation of all the signatures by the fourth respondent which was admitted. (3) the handling over of the withdrawal notices by the two Appala Naidus which was admitted, (4) the holding of a public meeting immediately and taking of the withdrawals which was admitted and finally (5) sending of telegrams to the State Government and making of representations to the second respondent himself which was admitted. Even taking all these allegations into our consideration we do not find it possible to conclusively answer the serious question whether the signatures put by the writ petitioners on the notices of withdrawals were voluntary or not. In our opinion, such a question can only be answered with any degree of certainty on the basis of evidence adduced on oath and subjected to cross examination. Even according to the petitioners, meeting was held in response to a call given by their caste men for the purpose of facilitating the election of one of their castmen as the Chairman of the Council. The petitioners knowingly and without doubt willingly responded to that caste-call and voluntarily attended that meeting with a view to facilitating the election of one of their caste men as the Chairman of the Council. Whether the petitioners did not act with the same caste impulsion and did not act with the same caste impulsion and did not willingly sign the notices of withdrawals, may be entertaining a hope that their withdrawals would not be submitted to the acceptance of the second respondent and that they would themselves be returned to the Municipal Council unopposed are all questions which would require careful factual investigation. Such as investigation can only be done fully and properly by an Election Tribunal. There is no reason why this court should undertake that task at the instance of the petitioners who are privies to subversion of election law. We accordingly hold that this court should not grant the petitioners any relief in this writ petition.
9. We are not unmindful of the fact that the process of self-governance had been subverted in this case and that yielding to caste considerations and personal calculations the true and authentic voice of the electorate of Anakapalli had been throttled and stiffled. But for the mockery of democracy enacted in the municipal elections of Anakapalli the writ petitioners are to be blamed, no less than the fourth respondent. The municipal elections, if property conducted can be useful as powerful catalysts to bring about a greater social cohesion and homogeneity in our heterogeneous society. But is tragic that the election of the municipal councilors by the few powerful people. But by law alone, we cannot remove such cancerous aberrations rapidly spreading in our body politic. Nothing is more difficult of achievement for law than to prevent the home-sapiens from self-destruction. A community of people determined to renounce their inalienable right to self-governance cannot be saved by law for long from the throes of thralldom. Those who are anxious to be bondmen cannot be helped to be freemen.
10. We accordingly dismiss W. A. 485/ 81 and W. P. 5345/81 with costs of one set and allow W. A. 473/81 but without costs.
we however, direct the Election Tribunal to receive and entertain any election petition that might be filed by the petitioners within thirty days from to-day.
11. Order accordingly.