Law minister H.R. Bhardwaj said on Sunday that the chief election commissioner’s (CEC) recommendation to remove Navin Chawla from the post of election commissioner was “not binding on the government”. The Congress said the CEC and the BJP were “acting in remarkable tandem”.
<b1>On January 16, CEC N. Gopalaswami wrote to the president, seeking Chawla’s removal. The move found support from the BJP but was slammed by most political parties and constitutional experts as a “political gimmick”.
“The president is the appointing authority for the election commissioners and the decision would be solely hers, on the advice of the cabinet,” Bhardwaj told HT, explaining the government’s position for the first time since the controversy erupted.
“The CEC’s role in the matter begins only if the President seeks a reference from him in the matter of removal of any election commissioner. The Constitution has provided a safeguard for prevention of political interference by making it mandatory for the government to seek a recommendation from the CEC if it wants t o remove any commissioner, but the CEC cannot recommend on his own.”
But Bhardwaj said the government was examining the CEC’s recommendation. “The timing and motive need to be taken into account.”
His view echoed the one taken by B.B. Tandon, Gopalaswami’s predecessor, in an affidavit in the Supreme Court (SC), which was hearing a BJP petition for removing Chawla. “The CEC could not act on his own on such a complaint and must await a reference from the President,” he had said.
Gopalaswami later told the SC that the CEC had suo motu power to recommend the removal of a commissioner.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, said: “Apart from the CEC and the BJP, no one shares the view that the CEC can suo motu recommend the removal of a commissioner.”
Singhvi said the sequence of events was “telling and alarming”. “The BJP first complained to the government against Chawla and then moved the SC where it got nothing,” he said. “From 2005 to 2007, the CEC remained silent and suddenly claimed in the SC that he can decide upon the continuance of other commissioners. The BJP, unable to convince the SC, withdrew the petition and approached the CEC. The CEC did not say anything for another 24 months. Suddenly, two months before the general election, he recommended the removal of Chawla. And then the BJP said his recommendation is binding on the government. A bystander would think the BJP and the CEC are acting in tandem.”
“We did not grudge the fact that Gopalaswami was appointed home secretary, and subsequently election commissioner, by L.K. Advani. The incumbent government — not the opposition — has the power to do that.”
Singhvi said despite some “questionable decisions” of the commission headed by Gopalaswami, the Congress had deferred to its authority.“For instance, Himachal CM was not consulted while announcing elections, that too four months before the expiry of the state legislature,” he said.