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Errors of the Commission

The Election Commission must keep away from controversy and judge things according to merit, not politics. The EC must maintain its impartiality, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Jun 08, 2008 23:29 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The Election Commission was in the news again with Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee slamming it for its “very very dubious’’ role in the conduct of the Office of Profit cases. Chatterjee’s castigation of the EC came while referring to the commission’s role in a complaint made against him and by implication against other members of his party. Obviously, the Speaker, who completed four years in office on June 4, is very bitter on this issue that was evident in his interview to this paper.

<b1>The sentiments were similar to those expressed by CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat who, in a letter to the-then President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam two years ago, had accused the EC of going overboard and conducting a ‘fishing and roving expedition’ in complaints made by MP Mukul Roy against various members of his party. His plea was that no judicial or quasi-judicial authority can seek to obtain materials from a party with a view to make out a cause of action where none is disclosed. If the so-called petition/complaint did not disclose any case whatsoever, it was incumbent on the quasi-judicial authority to reject it.

It is a different matter that Parliament passed legislation to retrospectively cover these cases now pending in the Supreme Court. Karat’s point was there was no case against the CPI(M) MPs as they did not draw any remuneration in the sense of violating the Office of Profit law. Instead, the EC went out of its way to try and establish guilt when in fact the complainant should have proved his case while moving the petition.

The complaint was given without substantiating it and, according to Karat, it was no reason for the EC to become an investigating agency for the complainant. This is something that bears serious reflection as it would be pointless to bring into conflict two constitutional authorities — the EC and Parliament.

In the same light, the most ridiculous case is the one that has Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswamy going overboard in a ‘fishing and roving expedition’’ against Sonia Gandhi for accepting a decoration — ‘the Order of Leopold’ — from Belgium. When Prime Minister Morarji Desai received Paksitan’s highest award, it was viewed in both countries as a sign of good-will, which is how all such awards between nations are seen. So, for the EC and its chief to waste almost a year of its time and trying its best to prove that this medal or ribbon is a title like ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady’ or ‘Sir’ is not only laughable but has sinister connotations in the role the EC chief is trying to play.

It is significant that the complainant — a certain P. Rajan — was jailed during the Emergency. Without doubt he holds a grudge against the Gandhi family on this account. So he should be advised to fight his battle politically instead of shooting from the shoulders of Rashtrapati Bhawan (that forwarded the complaint) or the EC. It was strange that such a letter would have been considered by the President, let alone forwarded to the EC. Does that mean that every letter that comes to the President should not be properly examined before it is sent to the EC? In that case, why does the President have a top-heavy secretariat? Why then do legal eagles surround the President? There are a number of people who may have a grouse against others. If all these letters come to Rashtrapati Bhawan and are not examined properly, the EC will soon not be conducting elections at all but spending time wasting taxpayers’ money on useless cases like this one.

Disqualification is attracted if Sonia Gandhi had become a member of, say, the Association of King Leopold. For this she was required to be nominated by two members. She would have had to swear an oath before the assembly and would have had to pay a fee before she could be accepted into the association. None of these things have clearly happened. Even the MEA, on the basis of the information obtained from the Belgian authorities, has opined that what Sonia Gandhi received was a decoration, not a title. So why is the EC prolonging this case? Is it only to ensure that somebody derives political mileage from it? EC hearings have not taken place in all these cases and neither are they necessary in open-and-shut cases. Do the Supreme Court and Hight Courts admit every case that comes before it? They don’t. If they start hearing every crank that came before it, the judicial system would come to a grinding halt.

If the EC persists, no PM, Minister or MP will accept any award. Indeed, they will have to refuse fearing action from the EC. The Commission should see reason and not give credence to mere allegations. It must keep away from controversy and judge things according to merit, not politics. The EC must maintain its impartiality. Between us.