Election Commissioner Navin Chawla will finally take over as the new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) on Tuesday.
The commission will also get a new commissioner V.S. Sampath, an IAS officer of the Andhra Pradesh cadre, to replace present CEC N. Gopalaswami.
Chawla, 63, a 1969 batch IAS officer of the Union Territory cadre, will supervise the remaining four phases of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections and will continue to run the poll panel till his retirement on July 30, 2010.
Although it is for the first time that the Election Commission has seen changes at the topmost level in the middle of Parliamentary elections, Chawla has so far declined to speak on the controversies, particularly the reasons for his strained relations with his predecessor.
Chawla has been in the thick of controversy since his appointment as an Election Commissioner in June 2006. His predecessor Gopalaswami had recommended his removal from the commission in January, citing “partisan behaviour” as the reason.
On Monday, however, it was all smiles at the commission offices, as Gopalaswami bid farewell to his colleagues. “At this point of time, let me wish Chawla a very bright tenure as the Chief Election Commissioner and for successful completion of the Lok Sabha elections,” the outgoing CEC said.
At one point of time, the Chawla-Gopalaswami feud was so intense that it generated tremendous political heat, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) backing Gopalaswami and the Congress supporting Chawla.
Chawla has also been under attack from the BJP since the moment his name was announced by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government as an Election Commission member. The reason was Chawla’s alleged proximity with the Congress leadership.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance submitted a memorandum signed by 205 MPs to then President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, seeking his removal soon after he joined the EC.
Later, BJP leader Jaswant Singh even went to the Supreme Court, challenging Chawla’s appointment. The petition was finally withdrawn in August 2007, after Gopalaswami filed an affidavit in the court that he had the power to recommend the sacking of his colleagues – a point the UPA government refused to accept.