The friction between the Punjab government and the Election Commission (EC) intensified on Tuesday after chief election commissioner (CEC) SY Quraishi asked chief minister Parkash Singh Badal not to do anything that could undermine the ongoing election process in the state.
Quraishi also urged Badal to reconsider his stated position about questioning actions of EC officials in Punjab.
The cold war between the state government and the EC became public on Sunday when Badal released a statement criticising the functioning of officials of the poll watchdog in Punjab.
Badal had appealed to the CEC to ask commission officials "to act within the parameters of their constitutional brief". He had stated that the manner in which the EC officials were taking decisions was causing confusion about the lines of administrative control. "And that can be dangerous for peace and law and order," Badal had said.
On Tuesday, the CEC posted a letter addressed to Badal on the EC website, expressing ‘deep dismay’ over his statement that questioned "actions of the commission’s officials during the election period."
"I am particularly disappointed that you have chosen to communicate with me and the commission through the media rather than directly, for which several channels are always available," the CEC said.
Quraishi stated that if there had been any deviations in the EC work, the commission would be "grateful if you (Badal) bring specific cases to our notice."
Assuring Badal that the commission valued his standing as a political leader and statesman, besides fully respecting his high office, the CEC said: "Hence, the commission is concerned that you have made general allegations of interference against its officials and questioned their conduct without any basis."
According to official sources, the bone of contention between the Badal government and the EC has been the transfer of officials, especially police officials, ahead of the January 30 polls.
In his letter, the CEC said the maintenance of law and order during the elections was a basic pre-condition for free and fair polls, and as such the commission could only have a vested interest in ensuring the same rather than ignoring it. "I need to assure you that the same is being done in right earnest."
"In view of the above, we would request you to kindly reconsider your stated position on the working of EC officials," he said.
"You would agree that we must not do anything at this juncture that can undermine the election management, the ongoing election process and overall electoral democracy in Punjab as well as the country," the CEC added.
'Raising cash limit not sign of weakness'
Regarding the enforcement of measures against the use of black money in the elections, SY Quraishi said the EC's action was backed by national consensus and also by the concerns expressed by all political parties. He said the EC decision to raise the cash-carrying limit from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh was not a sign of weakness; instead, it was the action of a responsive commission.