Special Correspondent

Navin Chawla: dignity of EC paramount

Chawla has acted most impartially, says Congress

Happenings harmful to country: Karat

Jaitley: we feel vindicated

NEW DELHI: With the Election Commission embroiled in a controversy, following The Hindu’s expose of Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami’s recommendation to the President that Election Commissioner Navin Chawla be removed, the view among political parties and constitutional experts is that the CEC’s action was unfortunate and calculated to damage the Commission’s institutional prestige.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, however, sided with the CEC, even as Mr. Chawla rejected the possibility of his resignation.

Mr. Chawla, who has been weathering the storm kicked up by the BJP against him, quietly said: “There is no confusion. We will work unitedly towards the general election … The Election Commission has delivered flawless elections in the country. We will continue to do so.” To a question whether he would resign, he retorted: “Why should I resign?” Talking to PTI, he said: “The dignity of the Commission is paramount.”

Privileged document, says Gopalaswami

Mr. Gopalaswami, who was away in Mumbai, refused to say anything to journalists except confirming that he had indeed sent a recommendation to the President.

“It is a privileged document. I will not take any questions. I only said the report has been sent to the President.”

His view was: “Like Caesar’s wife,” the Election Commissioners should be “above suspicion.”

On being asked about the constitutional position in the matter, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told journalists here on Saturday that the government would examine the CEC’s letter and its response would be made available “in due course.”

Eminent jurist and Constitution expert Fali Nariman, regretting Mr. Gopalaswami’s action, said that “when we need a united Commission for holding the general elections, it [CEC’s action] has divided the Commission and has done damage to the institution.”

Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh said it was not in the interest of any political party to cast aspersions on members of the Commission. He did not think there was any reason for Mr. Chawla to resign as “he has acted most impartially.” As for the charges against him, Mr. Singh said, “the Congress also had a lot of things to say about the functioning of some in the EC, but it had exercised restraint as it was not in the Congress culture to criticise those holding constitutional positions. It does not want to politicise the Commission.” He added: “It seems to be part of the BJP culture to attack constitutional authorities and this is most unfortunate.”

The BJP felt “vindicated” as it had led the campaign against Mr. Chawla and made a representation to Mr. Gopalaswami in January last year. Party general secretary Arun Jaitley told the media that Article 324 (5) gave the power to remove an Election Commissioner “only to the CEC” and this recommendation was “binding” on the government. He charged Mr. Chawla with political bias in favour of the ruling party.

The Left was not at all amused by the controversy. Communist Party of India national secretary D. Raja said Mr. Gopalaswami’s action smacked of a “political motive.” The Forward Bloc said the controversy was most damaging to the institution and image of the Election Commission and revealed a “shocking influence of major political parties among the Election Commissioners.”

Special Correspondent reports from Kalpetta (Kerala):

Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat termed the happenings in the EC “harmful” to the country.

Addressing a rally at Kalpetta to mark a joint meeting of the Central committees of the All-India Kisan Sabha and the All-India Agricultural Workers’ Union, Mr. Karat noted that all sorts of things were reported to be happening in the Commission. This was harmful to the country.

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