The Bharatiya Janata Party on Sunday decried the government's move to amend the constitution to create a parity between the chief election commissioner (CEC) and two election commissioners (EC). The move was aimed solely at shielding commission member Navin Chawla from possible removal by the CEC, it said.
BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley asked the Left parties, which prop up the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, to clarify if it would "blindly support the constitutionally inappropriate action" of the government.
The BJP has been campaigning against Chawla and has also moved the Supreme Court seeking his ouster from the Election Commission for his alleged bias in favour of the Congress party and close links with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Addressing a news conference, Jaitley said the BJP was concerned about Law Minister HR Bharadwaj's statement that the constitution would be amended "to create parity between the three members of the EC".
Jaitley explained that under the existing constitutional provisions, among the three top officials of the Election Commission, only the CEC enjoys the constitutional immunity from removal.
The CEC could be removed only through an elaborate parliamentary proceeding of impeachment, akin to the procedure for removal of the judges of higher judiciary, he said.
The CEC, on the other hand, is empowered to remove either of the two EC, said Jaitley. The government's move was evidently aimed at making the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) petition seeking Chawla's removal "infructuous", he added.
Jaitley said the government appeared bent upon amending the constitution owing to an affidavit CEC N Gopalaswami has filed before the apex court, stating that the constitutional provision empowered the CEC to remove ECs.
Jaitley said the government "seems to have conveniently forgotten" that the Congress does not command a two-thirds majority in either houses of parliament to amend the constitution and "even with allies it is unlikely to reach that figure".
Asking the Left parties to make their stand clear on the issue, the senior BJP leader said they had a "dubious role" in regard to issues like "partisan governors" and offices of profit.
"Chawla's episode will once again put the Left parties on trial. They will have to make a judgement whether to blindly support the constitutionally inappropriate action of the Congress party or lean in favour of strengthening independent constitutional institutions," Jaitley said.