Election Commissioners are susceptible to being accused of partisanship, thanks to the flawed system of appointments.
For, unlike other Constitutional bodies — such as the Central Information Commission and the Central Vigilance Commission, where a panel comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and Speaker of Lok Sabha select the members — the EC members are unilaterally selected by the government of the day.
The tendency to undermine the institution increased in the recent past and even J.M. Lyngdoh — who got the Magsaysay award for “convincing validation of free and fair elections in strife-torn India” — was accused by the BJP of being biased.
Even the present Chief Election Commissioner, N. Gopalaswami, who has accused his colleague Navin Chawla of partisanship, could come under a cloud as the Congress has questioned his antecedents.
Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj on Monday expressed unhappiness over the way Gopalaswami “functioned” as an ex-officio member of the Delimitation Commission” but decided not to make an issue of it.
He revealed that he had to make many representations to the President to reverse some of the notifications issued by the commission, of which Gopalaswami was a part. “It is best is to follow the procedure and settle the matter rather than play politics,” he said.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari questioned the timing of the recommendation and asked “what was the need for it just two months before elections and 78 days before he (Gopalaswami) had to retire?”
The Congress has accused Gopalaswami of advancing Himachal elections by over three months before the tenure was over without consulting the Chief Minister of the state.
Gopalaswami’s career track doesn’t help the situation. He was Union Home Secretary when L.K. Advani was Deputy PM and before that he had held important positions like Culture and Urban Development secretary in the NDA.
A 1966-batch Gujarat cadre officer, he was nominated into Nirvachan Bhawan during the NDA regime even before he completed his term as Union Home Secretary.
The International Bench and Bar Association on Monday questioned Gopalaswami’s neutrality in a petition filed with the President, while seeking an inquiry into his conduct and laying down qualification for appointment of election commissioners.
The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Conduct of Service) Act, 1991 prescribes service condition for the commissioners but is silent on qualification for their appointment.
The current controversy could prompt the government to explore a better mechanism to appoint election commissioner so that they do not come under such attacks.