Exclusive | ‘Have no axe to grind’: Ashok Lavasa on Election Commission row
Election commissioner Ashok Lavasa, who did not agree with the Election Commission of India’s (ECI) decisions to clear Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah of charges of violating the so-called Model Code of Conduct (MCC), broke his silence in an interview with Hindustan Times and said he has no axe to grind.
“I have no axe to grind. My concern is to have a system of disposal of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) violation cases in a timebound, transparent, and non-discriminatory manner,” Lavasa said ahead of an important election commission meeting on Tuesday.
The rift within the three-member commission came into the open after Hindustan Times reported on May 18 that Lavasa recused himself from all meetings to discuss MCC issues.
The election commissioner insisted that he would be a part of meetings only after dissent notes and minority decisions were included in the orders of the commission.
“Minority decisions recorded by me in several cases continue to be suppressed in a manner contrary to well-established conventions observed by multi-member statutory bodies,” Lavasa said to the Chief Election Commissioner, Sunil Arora, on May 16 in a letter — one of the three he is believed to have written on the subject.
In a press statement issued on May 18, Arora said, “The three members of the EC are not expected to be template or clones of each other. There have been so many times in the past when there has been a vast diversion of views as it can and should be”.
EC officials also said that its legal department was of the view that the dissenting opinions cannot be recorded in MCC cases as they are not quasi-judicial proceedings.
Lavasa, however, insists otherwise. “In all multi-member bodies, be it a court or a tribunal, dissent is included in the order,” he told HT. Defending his right to dissent, Lavasa added: “My reasons for dissent are as per the provisions of the MCC and advisories issued by the Election Commission. It will inspire greater public confidence in a constitutional body like the Election Commission.”
Earlier, in a letter on May 4, Lavasa wrote: “The main objective of the MCC is to ensure free and fair elections by providing a level playing field to all political parties and candidates and also to maintain a certain degree of decorum in the political discourse during electioneering.”
Lavasa did not attend any MCC meeting after May 4. In the letter, he enforced the importance of the MCC, saying it “draws its strength and sanctity from the strict, prompt and non-discriminatory enforcement therein.”
Clean chits were given to Modi and Shah on various speeches, including the PM’s speech in Nanded in Maharashtra on April 6 where he referred to the majority being a minority in Wayanad. In another speech in Varanasi, Modi said 42 terrorists were killed to avenge the death of 40 troopers in Pulwama. Shah was let off for his remarks in an election rally in Kerala where he purportedly said that it was difficult to make out if Wayanad is in India or Pakistan.
Arora has called for a full meeting of the commission on Tuesday, to discuss dissent and other issues. In his statement on May 18, Arora said: “ … in the last meeting of the Commission on 14.05.2019, it was unanimously decided that some groups shall be formed to deliberate the issues, which arose in the course of conduct of Lok Sabha elections, 2019, just as it was done after Lok Sabha elections of 2014. Out of the 13 issues/areas which were identified, Model Code of Conduct is one.”