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Congress terms BJP’s suggestion an assault on Election Commission

Special Correspondent

History will judge BJP poorly for acting so irresponsibly, says Singhvi

Says there were occasions when objections could be raised to Commission’s decision

‘Rationale of a multi-member Election Commission is to get best out of mutual deliberations’

NEW DELHI: The Congress on Sunday said the the Bharatiya Janata Party’s “irresponsible and short-sighted assault” on the Election Commission, a constitutional body, would set a dangerous precedent.

“It is contrary to established law, hypocritical and duplicitous in terms of sequence and timing and totally distorts context and background,” Congress spokesperson and MP Abhishek Singhvi said here.

The Congress had never commented on constitutional functionaries. It was compelled to do so only by way of response.

The party could have objected to the appointment of N. Gopalaswami — the then Home Secretary in the NDA government — as the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC).

“Unlike the BJP, we have regard for institution building. There were several occasions when legitimate objections could be raised to the Election Commission’s decision.”

For instance, the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections were announced and held four months before schedule and without consulting the Chief Minister. “This is unprecedented,” he said.

Another instance was Karnataka, where the Congress demanded that the electoral rolls be updated. The party stood vindicated when President’s Rule had to be extended in order to do so.

As for the timing and sequence, he said the BJP made a complaint seeking reference from the government to the CEC and approached the Supreme Court for relief. Despite several attempts, it failed to get any. For two years, between 2005 and 2007, the CEC remained silent and suddenly moved the Supreme Court in 2007 asserting jurisdiction over Election Commissioners. The BJP then “conveniently withdrew” its petition and simply wrote to the CEC.

“After a most pregnant and yet inexplicable silence between 2007 and 2009, the CEC threw a bombshell 10 days ago. This remarkable convergence in the view of the demand of the BJP and CEC is most unfortunate.”

Mr. Singhvi said there was no evidence to suggest that innumerable decisions of the Commission in the last four years involved repeated dissent notes by any of the Election Commissioners.

The rationale of a multi-member Election Commission was to get the best out of mutual deliberations. “Full cooperation was given to the CEC by all Election Commissioners.”

Mr. Singhvi, a leading lawyer at the Supreme Court, said the BJP was “grievously wrong” on the legal issue on two counts in the case.

First, he said, there was absolutely no justification to even remotely suggest that the CEC could make a recommendation without any reference by the government.

Second, it was an “unbelievably preposterous and most distracting misreading of the Constitution” to suggest that such a recommendation was binding. These went against the apex court decision in the T.N. Seshan case.

Such self-serving interpretations of law did no good either to the country, its politics or the Constitution. “History will judge the BJP poorly for acting so irresponsibly.”

The Congress, he said, also wished to clarify that its position on the subject was based not on Mr. Chawla or any other individual, but considering the larger institutional edifice of the Election Commission.

I’m right: Gopalaswami

PTI reports from New Delhi:

“I am right,” Mr. Gopalaswami said on Sunday, unfazed by the sharp criticism of his recommendation for the removal of Mr. Chawla.

“In my mind, I am right,” the CEC, whose term ends on April 20, said.

Mr. Gopalaswami pointed out that while the move was criticised by some jurists, for other leading lawyers like Harish Salve, he was within his constitutional right to make such a recommendation.

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