It was an eventful first day at work for new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Navin Chawla. First, he defended himself against charges levelled by the BSP and BJP, and then complimented his predecessor N Gopalaswami — with whom he shared an acrimonious relation in the Election Commission (EC) — for increasing the coverage of voter identity card to 82 per cent.
Sixty-three year-old Chawla, accompanied by Election Commissioner SY Quraishi and Power Secretary VS Sampath, who joined the commission on Tuesday, hit back at BSP boss Mayawati, who has accused Chawla of bias against the poll panel BSP.
“She had come on a Sunday and congratulated us for the fine conduct of the state elections,” Chawla said, refusing to be drawn into verbal duel with the UP chief minister.
Chawla, who had been at sixes and sevens with Gopalaswami, said he always learnt from “dissent” and also complimented his predecessor. The two had differed on various issues: election dates for Karnataka and Jammu and Kashmir assembly polls with the latest being disagreement over disqualification of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi for accepting an award from Belgium. However, Chawla praised Gopalaswamy for increasing the coverage of voter’s identity cards to 82 per cent. Now, 57.5 million out of the total 71.4 million voters have the voter’s ID card.
Outgoing CEC Gopalaswami was also graceful in his exit as he wished Chawla “a very bright tenure”.
Chawla sounded optimistic about the future when he said “three of us” will take decisions jointly and will deliver flawless elections as done in the last four years.
When his reaction was sought on the BJP’s statement that they would seek his removal, if they come to power, he said: “It does not worry him.”
Chawla, the first CEC to take charge in the middle of an election, will remain in office till July 29 next year when he turns 65. The CEC, a Constitutional post, enjoys a term of six years or till the occupant turns 65, whichever is earlier.
On his first interaction with media, after taking over, Chawla had a message for urban and young voters: “Come and vote in large numbers to showcase true spirit of democracy.”