The timing of chief election commissioner (CEC) N. Gopalaswami’s recommendation for the removal of his fellow election commissioner Navin Chawla could not have been more inappropriate. Elections are around the corner and Gopalaswami is demitting office on 20 April.
Gopalaswami made this recommendation in a letter to President Pratibha Patil who, in turn, forwarded it to the Prime Minister.
This has the potential to mire the Election Commission (EC) in needless controversy and open its doors to political manipulation, something politicians across the spectrum would not hesitate to do.
EC is one institution that has single-handedly ensured a level playing field in electoral politics—an arena not known for following sporting rules. One of the reasons for the success of Indian democracy is the separation of the conduct of elections from actual electoral politics and the influence of political parties.
Ruling parties always want some “accommodation” in setting the electoral calendar and enforcement of the model code of conduct. It is the rigorous implementation of rules that has ensured smooth political transition every five years. This would be very difficult if EC were to turn into a pliable body headed by retired civil servants.
There may or may not be substance to allegations of bias on the part of Chawla, but the matter could have been handled with greater care by the CEC. His action has put a question mark on the credibility of EC.
If the government appoints Chawla—who is the senior commissioner after Gopalaswami—as the next CEC, he may not enjoy the confidence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP had filed a?petition for his removal in the Supreme Court, which led to the chain of events culminating in the CEC’s recommendation.
That would be unfortunate, for EC cannot function well if a national party lacks confidence in CEC. What if Chawla is appointed CEC and the BJP raises doubts about the fairness of elections held under his watch? Things may not come to that pass, but why even try going down that path? Unfortunately, that is what the CEC has done. He should have thought about the consequences of his action.
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