The unprecedented recommendation by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) N. Gopalaswami to remove his colleague Navin Chawla on the ground of being “partisan” turned into a political storm on Saturday.
Gopalaswami’s letter to President Pratibha Patil, barely two months before the general election, has thrown the Election Commission (EC) into turmoil.
Constitutional experts and most political parties, barring the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have objected to the CEC’s recommendation, questioning the timing of his move. He is scheduled to retire on April 20. The government appeared in no mood to accept his recommendation.
Gopalaswami and Chawla had been at loggerheads for over two years on many issues, including holding of various state elections. Sources close to Gopalaswami said the 24-page letter, sent earlier this month, is supported with 68 pages of documents, including the BJP petition seeking Chawla’s removal.
The CEC has listed 12 incidents of Chawla’s alleged bias towards the Congress, which include “attempts to extend President’s rule in Karnataka, prevent early elections in Himachal and flip-flops in the Gujarat polls,” sources said.
These are matters on which Chawla disagreed with Gopalaswami in his capacity as election commissioner.
Gopalaswami had sought an explanation from Chawla in July 2008 on charges that he was “partisan”. Chawla refused to reply saying it was not a valid reference, following which six months later the CEC sent his recommendation to the President.
“I have submitted my report. It is a privileged document, I cannot speak about it,” Gopalaswami said in Mumbai.
A defiant Chawla said he would not quit. He told HT: “All political parties were satisfied with the elections.”
Constitutional experts like Fali Nariman and Shanti Bhushan slammed the CEC’s move. “Had he done it a year earlier, it might have been considered a bona fide complaint, but unfortunately he has done it now when ordinary people will believe there is some motivation,” Nariman said.
Former law minister Shanti Bhushan termed it a “political gimmick” and demanded the CEC’s resignation.
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukerjee, said: “The government’s response will be made available in due course.”
Home minister P. Chidambaram hinted at the likely response. “I thought all Election Commissioners hold posts for which the Constitution has prescribed a term.”
In reply to a 2006 BJP petition in the Supreme Court, challenging Chawla’s appointment, the government had said the CEC was “over stretching his limits.” “The CEC’s role in removing a commissioner comes into play only after the government has sought his opinion on the issue. Article 324 (5) of the constitution contemplates that the appointing authority (the President), will remove the Election Commissioner,” the affidavit said.
(Inputs from Shekhar Iyer)