The government is seized of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) N Gopalaswami's recommendation to remove Election Commissioner Navin Chawla, the Congress party said on Saturday, as the reported move ahead of the Lok Sabha elections divided legal experts.
"The president's office has confirmed having received a communication from the CEC. The government is seized of the matter and will decide how to deal with the letter," Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari told IANS.
Tiwari did not give details, and his comment followed a published report on Saturday that Gopalaswami had suggested to President Pratibha Patil that Chawla could be eased out of the autonomous Election Commission on grounds of being partisan.
Gopalaswami refused to discuss the subject, telling reporters that he had submitted "a privileged document to the government".
"That's all I can say, I will not talk any more about it," he said.
Asked when he submitted the report to the president, Gopalaswami replied: "When the president received it."
A spokesperson for the Rashtrapati Bhavan said the communication was received last week.
Election Commission spokesperson Rajesh Malhotra told IANS that he was travelling and could not comment on the issue. An aide to Chawla said that Chawla was busy.
Gopalaswami's reported decision has sparked a storm in legal circles, with opinion divided if the head of the election panel acted wisely or not -- particularly with only months left for his own retirement on April 20 and the onset of the next Lok Sabha polls in April-May.
Chawla, who had been tipped to take over as the CEC after Gopalaswami retires, has been targeted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also went to the Supreme Court against the Election Commissioner.
Even as some Congress leaders railed against Gopalaswami for allegedly "creating unnecessary controversy", legal opinion was divided over what he had done.
Constitutional expert KK Venugopal said the CEC was not empowered to seek the removal of another member of the poll panel. "This is wholly unjustified as the constitution assigns no role or power to the CEC."
Noted constitutional expert Fali Nariman also took exception to what Gopalaswami's action.
Praising Gopalaswami for having been an "excellent chief election commissioner", Nariman said that he should not have made the suo motto recommendation about Chawla's removal.
But constitutional expert Rajiv Dhawan felt differently. "Being the CEC, it is his moral and legal duty to preserve the purity and fairness of the electoral process.
"And if he finds that one of the Election Commissioners is partisan, he is constitutionally fully empowered to recommend his ouster to the president his ouster," he said.