The Law Ministry has released the letter written by the then Chief Election Commissioner, N. Gopalaswami, to the President seeking removal of fellow Election Commissioner Navin Chawla, while the Rashtrapati Bhavan declined to make the document public.
The appellate authority under the Right to Information Act in the Ministry allowed the request by S.S. Ranawat of Bhilwara in Rajasthan, for information on the unprecedented recommendation made by Mr. Gopalaswami in January last year. The Rashtrapati Bhavan had cited Mr. Chawla’s opposition to the disclosure as a reason for not making it public.
In his 93-page report, Mr. Gopalaswami cited several instances of “partisan behaviour” on the part of Mr. Chawla.
Acting on the petition filed by BJP leader L.K. Advani and 179 other MPs, who had levelled accusations of “political partisanship,” the then CEC contended that he had powers under the Constitution to recommend the removal of Mr. Chawla. The government, however, rejected the recommendation and later appointed Mr. Chawla CEC.
Mr. Gopalaswami cited Mr. Chawla’s own notings on another occasion that the CEC had the power to make such a recommendation.
In the recommendation to the President, Mr. Gopalaswami said he concluded that “significant facts” and “irresistible conclusions” from the report submitted by him were crucial in judging the suitability of Mr. Chawla as Election Commissioner.
He said Mr. Chawla’s continuance as Election Commissioner was “not justified.”
“My recommendation, therefore, under the powers vested in me under the second proviso to Article 324(5) of the Constitution, is to remove Shri Navin B. Chawla from the post of Election Commissioner,” Mr. Gopalaswami said in his January 16, 2009 letter, months before the general elections during which he demitted office.
Referring to 12 instances cited by him, Mr. Gopalaswami said: “Taken individually [they] appear to indicate Shri Chawla’s political partisanship. Collectively, they point to a continuity of consistent thought and action in furthering the interest of one party with which he appeared to be in constant touch, raising serious doubts about his political detachment.
“Further, it was not only that he appeared to be lacking in political neutrality but more pernicious were his attempts to influence Election Commissioner Dr. Quraishi, not by dint of valid arguments, but by spreading stories that Dr. Quraishi was supporting the opposite views.”
On many occasions, Mr. Gopalaswami said, Dr. Quraishi had confided that he was under pressure, as for instance when he was in favour of elections being held in Karnataka on time and wanted the electoral rolls prepared for the new constituencies using the ‘cut and paste’ method, but did not want his name taken because he was under pressure.
Dr. Quraishi once shared a comment made by Mr. Chawla to him that “they are angry with you not so much because you were instrumental in Sonia Gandhi getting a notice from ECI on her birthday [reference to the notice on the maut ka saudagar remarks] but for the fact that you sided with the CEC in advancing the elections in Himachal Pradesh.”
Such pressure tactics, Mr. Gopalaswami said, did not augur well for the Election Commission because the independence and neutrality of the members could be jeopardised by subjecting them to mental pressure and pressure from other vested interests.
“Such an approach would strike at the very foundation of the Election Commission as a neutral body,” he said.
The then CEC said that from time to time he had taken care to apprise some select people of these happenings lest they be labelled as an afterthought.
As for the episode of U.P. elections in 2007, when Mr. Chawla wanted the poll announcement deferred anticipating imposition of President’s rule, which was demanded by the Congress, Mr. Gopalaswami said the matter was brought to the notice of the then President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
Mr. Gopalaswami said his immediate predecessors, J.M. Lyngdoh and B.B. Tandon, and a retired Gujarat IAS official, had also been told about these instances.
“It is also necessary to record here that prior to May 2005, in the one year and three months of my experience as Election Commissioner, there was not even one single incident in which there was any remotely partisan view expressed by any Commissioner on any occasion when the general election to the Parliament 2004 and election to the Legislative Assemblies of Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar  were conducted.”
Mr. Gopalaswami said Mr. Chawla’s “present conduct seems a part of a continuum of the conduct he had exhibited, of closeness to a certain political formation, during the emergency a little over 30 years ago and more recently, prior to his appointment as EC, when he received donations for the trusts which he and his family members ran, to the period of the last three and a half years in the Election Commission.”
Mr. Gopalaswami said these would certainly be significant factors in deciding Mr. Chawla’s continuance in the post of Election Commissioner. These would equally be significant in determining his suitability to the office of CEC.