Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami used his powers under Article 324(5) of the constitution to recommend the removal of fellow commissioner, Navin Chawla. Ironically, five years ago, he was one of the signatories to a letter sent by the election commission to the prime minister, criticizing this very article and seeking its amendment!
The letter had recommended that the procedure for removing any of the election commissioners should be same as that for the chief election commissioner — impeachment by parliament. “Article 324(5) is inadequate and requires an amendment to provide the very same protection and safeguard in the matter of removing election commissioners from office as is available to the chief election commissioner,” the letter argued.
The government did nothing about it.
Gopalaswami’s effort to remove Chawla from the election commission also goes against the 1993 amendment to the act setting up the election commission that said the three election commissioners should enjoy equal status. The chief election commissioner would be the administrative head, but the other two would not be his subordinates. In case of a difference of opinion among the three, the majority opinion would prevail, not necessarily the opinion of the chief.
This is also the practice that has been followed so far. When Navin Chawla objected to holding early assembly elections in Karnataka last year, while Gopalaswamy was keen to do so, it was the third election commissioner SY Quraishi’s opinion that tipped the scale in favour of Gopalaswamy. A few months later, Gopalaswamy wanted to postpone assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir because of the turmoil prevailing there at the time, while Chawla wanted to go ahead. This time Quraishi supported Chawla and elections were held in November-December.
"This controversy has done terrible damage to the image and credibility of an institution like the election commission,” said Jagdeep Chokkar, founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms, which closely monitors the conduct of elections