The government on Monday snubbed Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) N. Gopalaswami for recommending the removal of his colleague Navin Chawla. It also made it clear that it intends to appoint Chawla as the new CEC after Gopalaswami retires on April 20.
“Gopalaswami has no constitutional authority to embarrass or comment upon his own colleagues since they are all equal,” Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj said. Emboldened by BJP's political isolation — after its NDA allies showed reluctance to support its demand to sack Chawla — the minister said: “Gopalaswami should not have crossed his limits. He has no power to recommend on his own.”
Asked if the issue would affect Chawla's chances of becoming the CEC, Bhardwaj replied: “I will not hesitate in performing my duty for initiating the process for appointment of the new CEC and the precedent has been to appoint the senior-most election commissioner. Our policy remains the same.”
Chawla is the senior-most commissioner after Gopalaswami.
The ministry is examining Gopalaswami's letter and will send its response to the Prime Minister, Bhardwaj revealed. "I have personally not found anything against Chawla in my long public career," he added, making it clear that the government is ready to “outrightly reject” Gopalaswami's allegations.
The Congress strongly attacked the CEC. “Allow me to point out how constitutionally erroneous the conduct of the current CEC has been throughout this unfortunate episode,” party spokesman Manish Tiwari said.
(With inputs from Saroj Nagi)